Effects of early life adverse experiences on the brain: implications from maternal separation models in rodents.

Research paper by Mayumi M Nishi, Noriko N Horii-Hayashi, Takayo T Sasagawa

Indexed on: 06 Jul '14Published on: 06 Jul '14Published in: Frontiers in neuroscience


During postnatal development, adverse early life experiences affect the formation of neuronal networks and exert long-lasting effects on neural function. Many studies have shown that daily repeated maternal separation (MS), an animal model of early life stress, can regulate the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis) and affect subsequent brain function and behavior during adulthood. However, the molecular basis of the long-lasting effects of early life stress on brain function has not been fully elucidated. In this mini review, we present various cases of MS in rodents and illustrate the alterations in HPA axis activity by focusing on corticosterone (CORT). We then show a characterization of the brain regions affected by various patterns of MS, including repeated MS and single time MS at various stages before weaning, by investigating c-Fos expression. These CORT and c-Fos studies suggest that repeated early life stress may affect neuronal function in region- and temporal-specific manners, indicating a critical period for habituation to early life stress. Next, we introduce how early life stress can impact behavior, namely by inducing depression, anxiety or eating disorders, and alterations in gene expression in adult mice subjected to MS.