Examining Female Resilience to Early Environmental Influences : Short- and long-term consequences on behaviour, HPA axis activity and alcohol intake after prolonged maternal separation

Detta är en avhandling från Uppsala : Uppsala University

Sammanfattning: Early-life experiences are an important factor influencing further development of the individual. Adverse experiences early in life, such as various kinds of abuse or neglect, are types of early-life stress that can adversely affect an individuals health, as well as contribute to the development of an array of disorders later in life. Most prominent is the increased risk for psychiatric disorders, primarily depression, anxiety-related and substance use disorders. Many of the implicated disorders also exhibit sex-dependent differences in prevalence and severity. Thus, it is important to consider sex-dependent effects when modeling early-life stress and its consequences. A common animal model for early-life stress is prolonged maternal separation (MS). MS is an umbrella term for different manipulations of the early environment of rodent pups. In this thesis, a prolonged MS condition with separation of rat litters from their dams for six hours per day during the first three weeks of life (MS360) was used. In male offspring MS360 have been associated with early-life stress and negative effects apparent during both adolescence and adulthood. The literature regarding female offspring is not as substantial as for the males, but it seems that females’ exhibit less pronounced or no effect after prolonged MS independent of separation time. In addition, the studies that have examined female offspring have done so in adulthood and thus, short-term consequences of prolonged MS possibly present during adolescence have not been investigated. The aim of this thesis is to provide a broad investigation into the consequences of prolonged MS in female offspring, in both adolescence and adulthood. As stated above, MS360 was used as the adverse rearing condition in this thesis. As control, daily short MS (15 min; MS15) was used; this ensured that all animals were handled equally, except for the length of separation. Any detected differences are thus due to the length of separation only. Three categories of assessments were used to evaluate short- and long-term consequences: 1) hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis assessments, 2) behavioral assessments and 3) assessment of voluntary alcohol consumption. HPA axis reactivity was assessed in adolescent and adult offspring by blood sampling before and after challenge. HPA activity was also evaluated after long-term alcohol consumption by measurement of the fecal corticosterone content. Behavior was assessed in adolescence by registration of social play behavior and in adulthood by generation of behavioral profiles in the multivariate concentric square fieldTM (MCSF). Alcohol consumption was evaluated using the modified intermittent alcohol access schedule with the two- (20% alcohol) and three- bottle (5% and 20% alcohol) free-choice paradigms. Female offspring did not differ depending on rearing condition in HPA reactivity in adolescence or adulthood. However, after the long-term alcohol intake, MS360 females had increased levels of corticosterone in their feces compared to MS15 females. No difference was detected in adolescent social play among female offspring and only a minor alteration was detected in the adult behavioral profile, where MS360 females had increased risk assessment compared to MS15 females. No effect of rearing condition was seen during the two-bottle choice paradigm of alcohol intake, while whole- group differences over time were discovered. Alcohol intake and preference were highest the first week of access and directly after a two-week deprivation period, apart from those time-points, intake and preference were maintained on a stable level. In the three-bottle choice, an interaction with rearing condition was revealed for the total alcohol preference, however this only translated to a minor group-dependent difference. In conclusion, females reared under a prolonged MS paradigm exhibited no or only minor basal changes in HPA axis reactivity, behavior and alcohol consumption. However, after long-term alcohol intake females subjected to prolonged MS had increased corticosterone excretion into feces. That differences only emerge after long-term perturbation can be a sign that females have higher buffering capabilities than males after early-life adversity, as modeled through prolonged MS, and thus require additional challenges before consequences become apparent. This thesis highlights the importance of considering sex when studying the impact of early-life stress, and that the choice of animal model needs to be considered carefully in relation to the research question posed.

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