Motherhood-induced memory improvement persists across lifespan in rats but is abolished by a gestational stress


Dr V. Lemaire, as above.


Motherhood modifies the biology and behavior of the female, a process which prepares the mother's cognitive systems that are needed for nurturance. It has recently been shown that motherhood enhances hippocampal-mediated spatial learning and synaptic plasticity. Deleterious and long-term effects of a stress experienced during gestation have been demonstrated on progeny. Surprisingly little is known about the effect of such stress on mothers. Here, we investigated the effect of gestational stress on the adaptive changes due to motherhood. Female rats were mated and stressed during the last week of gestation. Two weeks after weaning, they were submitted to behavioral tests or electrophysiological study. A group of females were then kept for 16 months after motherhood experience to study the long-term effect of gestational stress and motherhood on memory when they were 22 months old. We confirm that a single motherhood experience selectively increases hippocampal-mediated spatial memory during the entire lifespan of female rats and protects them from age-associated memory impairments. However, we demonstrate that a stressful experience during gestation totally abolishes the positive effects of motherhood both on spatial memory and on hippocampal synaptic plasticity (long-term potentiation). Environmental factors that induce biological vulnerability have negative effects even for fundamental biological behaviors.