Early Postnatal Handling Alters Glucocorticoid Receptor Concentrations in Selected Brain Regions

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Abstract

Norway rat pups were either handled (H) or undisturbed (nonhandled, NH) in the period between birth and weaning on Day 21. Following weaning, half of the animals in each group were housed socially (Soc), and half were housed in isolation (Isol). At 120–150 days of age, all animals were sacrificed, and the following regions were dissected and frozen at −70 °C until the time of assay: frontal cortex, hippocampus, hypothalamus, amygdala, septum, and pituitary. [3H]Dexamethasone (3H Dex) binding in each region was examined by an in vitro, cytosol, receptor assay. 3H Dex binding was significantly higher in the hippocampus of both H-Soc and H-Isol than in NH groups. In the frontal cortex, 3H Dex binding was higher in the H-Soc animals than in the H-Isol and NH-Isol animals. There were no significant handling or housing effects found in the amygdala, hypothalamus, septum, or pituitary. Thus, early postnatal handling appears to influence the development of the glucocorticoid receptor system in the hippocampus and frontal cortex. These results are discussed as providing a possible mechanism for some of the previously reported effects of early handling on the development of the pituitary-adrenal response to stress.

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