Stress During Pregnancy Alters the Offspring Hypothalamic, Pituitary, Adrenal, and Testicular Response to Isolation on the Day of Weaning

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Subjecting pregnant female rats to situations that activate the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis can have long-term effects on the development of the offspring. Restraint under bright lights is a common method of stressing pregnant females that results in consistent behavioral changes in the offspring. We investigated the effects of gestationally administered restraint, bright lights, and heat on the HPA axis response of 21-day-old offspring following exposure to isolation in a novel environment or under resting conditions. Corticotropin-releasing factor titers in the hypothalamus were unaffected following isolation. Nonetheless, adrenocorticotropin hormone (ACTH) was found to be lower in the gestationally stressed offspring prior to or following the isolation period. Corticosterone was attenuated in gestationally stressed offspring following the postnatal stressor and there was also a tendency for the gestationally stressed females to have lower concentrations of aldosterone. Plasmatic testosterone levels were higher in the gestationally stressed males following the period of isolation. The present data suggest that the HPA axis of the offspring is differentially affected by the gestational stress procedure, that is, it is attenuated at the level of the pituitary and adrenal, but not at the level of the hypothalamus. These data have implications for behavioral differences observed in gestationally stressed animals.



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