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Keywords:

  • anxiety;
  • corticotropin-releasing hormone;
  • corticotropin-releasing hormone receptor 1;
  • early-life stress

Abstract

Early-life stress may lead to persistent changes in central corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) and the CRH receptor 1 (CRHR1) system that modulates anxiety-related behavior. However, it remains unknown whether CRH–CRHR1 signaling is involved in early-life stress-induced anxiety-related behavior in adult animals. In the present study, we used conditional forebrain CRHR1 knockout (CRHR1-CKO) mice and examined the potential role of forebrain CRHR1 in the anxiogenic effects of early-life stress. As adults, wild-type mice that received unstable maternal care during the first postnatal week showed reduced body weight gain and increased anxiety levels in the open field test, which were prevented in stressed CRHR1-CKO mice. In the light–dark box test, control CRHR1-CKO mice were less anxious, but early-life stress increased anxiety levels in both wild-type and CRHR1-CKO mice. In the elevated plus maze test, early-life stress had only subtle effects on anxiety-related behavior. Moreover, early-life stress did not alter the basal home cage activity and gene expression levels of key hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis regulators in adult wild-type and CRHR1-CKO mice, but enhanced neuroendocrine reactivity to acute immobilization stress in CRHR1-CKO mice. Our findings highlight the importance of forebrain CRHR1 in modulating some of the anxiogenic effects of early-life stress, and suggest that other neural circuits are also involved in the programming effects of early-life stress on anxiety-related behavior.