Prenatal stress selectively alters the reactivity of the hypothalamic-pituitary adrenal system in the female rat

Marta Weinstock*, Erlena Matlina, Gilmor I. Maor, Haim Rosen, Bruce S. McEwen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

376 Scopus citations


A study was made of the effects of prenatal stress on the reactivity of the hypothalamic-pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis in male and female offspring. Rat dams were subjected to noise and light stress on an unpredictable basis throughout pregnancy. At 28 days of age mRNA for POMC, proenkephalin and prodynorphin were measured in the hypothalamus of the offspring. A marked reduction was found in POMC mRNA in PS females (PSF) but not in males (PSM), but the other mRNA's did not differ from controls (C). At 60 days of age, PSF has 3 times higher resting levels of serum corticosterone (COR) and significantly lower dexamethasone (DEX)3H hippocampal binding sites than CF. Overnight adrenalectomy abolished the difference in DEX binding. After 10 min exposure to open field PS males and females voided more fecal pellets and made fewer center entries than C offspring, testifying to increased emotionality. Open field stress caused a 3-5-fold rise in circulating COR in all groups within 15 min, which returned to baseline by 90 min in all rats except PSF. These data show that prenatal stress can cause permanent alterations in the behavior of both sexes in stressful situations but appears to cause a selective effect on the HPA axis in the female rat.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)195-200
Number of pages6
JournalBrain Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - 13 Nov 1992

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgements. This work was supported by a grant from the Israel Academy of Science and from the Ministry of Science and Technology.


  • Glucocorticoid receptor
  • Hippocampus
  • Open field test
  • Plasma corticosterone


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