Immune activation in lactating dams alters sucklings’ brain cytokines and produces non-overlapping behavioral deficits in adult female and male offspring: A novel neurodevelopmental model of sex-specific psychopathology

Michal Arad, Yael Piontkewitz, Noa Albelda, Lee Shaashua, Ina Weiner*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Early immune activation (IA) in rodents, prenatal through the mother or early postnatal directly to the neonate, is widely used to produce behavioral endophenotypes relevant to schizophrenia and depression. Given that maternal immune response plays a crucial role in the deleterious effects of prenatal IA, and lactation is a critical vehicle of immunological support to the neonate, we predicted that immune activation of the lactating dam will produce long-term abnormalities in the sucklings. Nursing dams were injected on postnatal day 4 with the viral mimic poly-I:C (4 mg/kg) or saline. Cytokine assessment was performed in dams’ plasma and milk 2 h, and in the sucklings’ hippocampus, 6 h and 24 h following poly-I:C injection. Male and female sucklings were assessed in adulthood for: a) performance on behavioral tasks measuring constructs considered relevant to schizophrenia (selective attention and executive control) and depression (despair and anhedonia); b) response to relevant pharmacological treatments; c) brain structural changes. Maternal poly-I:C injection caused cytokine alterations in the dams’ plasma and milk, as well as in the sucklings’ hippocampus. Lactational poly-I:C exposure led to sex-dimorphic (non-overlapping) behavioral abnormalities in the adult offspring, with male but not female offspring exhibiting attentional and executive function abnormalities (manifested in persistent latent inhibition and slow reversal) and hypodopaminergia, and female but not male offspring exhibiting despair and anhedonia (manifested in increased immobility in the forced swim test and reduced saccharine preference) and hyperdopaminergia, mimicking the known sex-bias in schizophrenia and depression. The behavioral double-dissociation predicted distinct pharmacological profiles, recapitulating the pharmacology of negative/cognitive symptoms and depression. In-vivo imaging revealed hippocampal and striatal volume reductions in both sexes, as found in both disorders. This is the first evidence for the emergence of long-term behavioral and brain abnormalities after lactational exposure to an inflammatory agent, supporting a causal link between early immune activation and disrupted neuropsychodevelopment. That such exposure produces schizophrenia- or depression-like phenotype depending on sex, resonates with notions that risk factors are transdiagnostic, and that sex is a susceptibility factor for neurodevelopmental psychopathologies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)35-49
Number of pages15
JournalBrain, Behavior, and Immunity
Volume63
DOIs
StatePublished - Jul 2017

Keywords

  • Animal model
  • Cytokines
  • Depression
  • Lactational immune activation
  • Neurodevelopment
  • Poly-I:C
  • Schizophrenia
  • Sex-specific psychopathology

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