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Keywords:

  • glucocorticoids;
  • lactation;
  • rats;
  • stress;
  • development

Abstract

Early influences such as maternal stress affect the developmental outcome of the offspring. We created an animal model of postpartum depression/stress based on giving high levels of corticosterone (CORT) to the rat dam, which resulted in behavioral and neural changes in the offspring. This study investigated whether highly elevated levels of maternal CORT during pregnancy or the postpartum result in higher levels of CORT in the stomach milk, serum, and brain of offspring. Dams received daily injections of CORT (40 mg/kg) or oil (control) either during pregnancy (gestational days 10–20) or the postpartum (Days 2–21). Pups that were exposed to high gestational maternal CORT had higher CORT levels in serum, but not in stomach milk or brain, on postnatal day (PND) 1. However, on PND7, pups that were exposed to high postpartum maternal CORT had higher CORT levels in stomach milk and brain, but not in serum. Conversely on PND18, pups that were exposed to high postpartum maternal CORT had higher CORT levels in serum, but not in brain (prefrontal cortex, hypothalamus, or hippocampus). Moreover, 24 h after weaning, there were no significant differences in serum CORT levels between the groups. Thus, CORT given to the dam during pregnancy or the postpartum results in elevated levels of CORT in the offspring, but in an age- and tissue-dependent manner. Developmental exposure to high CORT could reprogram the HPA axis and contribute to the behavioral and neural changes seen in adult offspring. © 2010 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Develop Neurobiol 70: 714–725, 2010