Somatic and Neuroendocrine Changes in Response to Chronic Corticosterone Exposure During Adolescence in Male and Female Rats

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Prolonged stress and repeated activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis can result in many sex-dependent behavioural and metabolic changes in rats, including alterations in feeding behaviour and reduced body weight. In adults, these effects of stress can be mimicked by corticosterone, a major output of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, and recapitulate the stress-induced sex difference, such that corticosterone-treated males show greater weight loss than females. Similar to adults, chronic stress during adolescence leads to reduced weight gain, particularly in males. However, it is currently unknown whether corticosterone mediates this somatic change and whether additional measures of neuroendocrine function are affected by chronic corticosterone exposure during adolescence in a sex-dependent manner. Therefore, we examined the effects of non-invasively administered corticosterone (150 or 300 μg/ml) in the drinking water of male and female rats throughout adolescent development (30–58 days of age). We found that adolescent animals exposed to chronic corticosterone gain significantly less weight than controls, which may be partly mediated by the effects of corticosterone on food consumption, fluid intake and gonadal hormone function. Our data further show that, despite similar circulating corticosterone levels, males demonstrate a greater sensitivity to these changes than females. We also found that Npy1 and Npy5 receptor mRNA expression, genes implicated in appetite regulation, was significantly reduced in the ventral medial hypothalamus of corticosterone-treated males and females compared to controls. Finally, parameters of gonadal function, such as plasma sex steroid concentrations and weight of reproductive tissues, were reduced by adolescent corticosterone treatment, although only in males. The data obtained in the present study indicate that chronic corticosterone exposure throughout adolescent development results in significant and sex-dependent somatic and neuroendocrine changes, and the results also provide an experimental framework for further investigating the impact of corticosterone on metabolic and neuroendocrine function during adolescence.

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