This study investigated the hypotheses that unpredictable prenatal stress (1) has effects on the offspring, similar to those induced by perinatal administration of glucocorticoids and (2) increases the vulnerability to stressful situations at adulthood. Rats were exposed to random noise and light stress throughout pregnancy. Offspring were tested for the development of spontaneous alternation behavior (SA) and at adulthood, their response to novel or aversive situations, open field, extinction and punishment following acquisition of an appetitive response and two-way active avoidance, were assessed. In prenatally stressed rats, the development of SA was significantly delayed. On repeated exposure to an open field they were less active; control rats had elevated plasma corticosterone (CCS) on days 2 and 4 of open field exposure, while prenatally stressed rats had significantly raised plasma CCS after each exposure (days 1-8). Furthermore, punishment-induced suppression of an appetitive response was enhanced. Acquisition of active avoidance was faciliated in female but reduced in male prenatally stressed offspring. It is suggested that random prenatal noise and light stress may cause impairment of development of hippocampal function which lasts into adulthood. This impairment is manifested as an increase in vulnerability and a decrease in habituation to stressful stimuli.
- Hippocampal development
- Prenatal stress
- Stress-induced corticosterone levels
- Vulnerability to stress