Perinatal fluoxetine increases hippocampal neurogenesis and reverses the lasting effects of pre-gestational stress on serum corticosterone, but not on maternal behavior, in the rat dam

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There is increasing evidence that mental health concerns, stress-related mental illnesses, and parental stress prior to conception have long-term effects on offspring outcomes. However, more work is needed to understand how pre-gestational stress might affect neurobehavioral outcomes in the mother. We investigated how chronic stress prior to gestation affects maternal behavior and related physiology, and aimed to determine the role that perinatal SSRIs have in altering these stress effects. To do this, female Sprague-Dawley rats were subject to chronic unpredictable stress (CUS) prior to breeding. During the perinatal period they were administered fluoxetine (10 mg/kg/day). Four groups of dams were studied: Control + Vehicle, Pre-gestational Stress + Vehicle, Control + Fluoxetine and Pre-gestational Stress + Fluoxetine. Maternal weight, breeding success, and maternal caregiving behaviors were recorded. Measures of serum corticosterone and corticosteroid-binging globulin (CBG) and the number of immature neurons in the dorsal hippocampus were also assessed in the late postpartum. Main findings show pre-gestational stress resulted in poor reproductive success and maintenance of pregnancy. Pre-gestationally stressed dams also showed higher levels of nursing and fewer bouts of licking/grooming offspring in the first week postpartum – behaviors that were not reversed by perinatal fluoxetine treatment. In the dam, perinatal fluoxetine treatment reversed the effect of pre-gestational maternal stress on serum corticosterone levels and increased serum CBG levels as well as neurogenesis in the dorsal hippocampus. Maternal corticosterone levels significantly correlated with blanket and passive nursing. This work provides evidence for a long-term impact of stress prior to gestation in the mother, and shows that perinatal SSRI medications can prevent some of these effects.

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