Nrg1 deficiency modulates the behavioural effects of prenatal stress in mice

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Little is known about the exact genes that confer vulnerability or resilience to environmental stressors during early neurodevelopment. Partial genetic deletion of neuregulin 1 (Nrg1) moderates the neurobehavioural effects of stressors applied in adolescence and adulthood, however, no study has yet examined its impact on prenatal stress. Here we examined whether Nrg1 deficiency in mice modulated the impact of prenatal stress on various behaviours in adulthood. Male heterozygous Nrg1 mice were mated with wild-type female mice who then underwent daily restraint stress from days 13 to 19 of gestation. Surprisingly, prenatal stress had overall beneficial effects by facilitating sensorimotor gating, increasing sociability, decreasing depressive-like behaviour, and improving spatial memory in adulthood. Such benefits were not due to any increase in maternal care, as prenatal stress decreased nurturing of the offspring. Nrg1 deficiency negated the beneficial behavioural effects of prenatal stress on all measures except sociability. However, Nrg1 deficiency interacted with prenatal stress to trigger locomotor hyperactivity. Nrg1 deficiency, prenatal stress or their combination failed to alter acute stress-induced plasma corticosterone concentrations. Collectively these results demonstrate that Nrg1 deficiency moderates the effects of prenatal stress on adult behaviour, but it does so in a complex, domain-specific fashion.HighlightsPrenatal stress (PS) had a beneficial effect on various behaviours in adult mice.PS improved sensorimotor gating, sociability, spatial memory and stress coping.Nrg1 deficiency reduced all the benefits of PS except for enhanced sociability.Nrg1 deficiency and prenatal stress combined to trigger locomotor hyperactivity.

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