The maternal deprivation animal model revisited

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Abstract

Early life stress, in the form of MD (24 h at pnd 9), interferes with brain developmental trajectories modifying both behavioral and neurobiochemical parameters. MD has been reported to enhance neuroendocrine responses to stress, to affect emotional behavior and to impair cognitive function. More recently, changes in body weight gain, metabolic parameters and immunological responding have also been described. Present data give support to the fact that neuronal degeneration and/or astrocyte proliferation are present in specific brain regions, mainly hippocampus, prefrontal cortex and hypothalamus, which are particularly vulnerable to the effects of neonatal stress. The MD animal model arises as a valuable tool for the investigation of the brain processes occurring at the narrow time window comprised between pnd 9 and 10 that are critical for the establishment of brain circuitries critical for the regulation of behavior, metabolism and energy homeostasis. In the present review we will discuss three possible mechanisms that might be crucial for the effects of MD, namely, the rapid increase in glucocorticoids, the lack of the neonatal leptin surge, and the enhanced endocannabinoid signaling during the specific critical period of MD. A better understanding of the mechanisms underlying the detrimental consequences of MD is a concern for public health and may provide new insights into mental health prevention strategies and into novel therapeutic approaches in neuropsychiatry.

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