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Maternal separation impairs long term-potentiation in CA1-CA3 synapses and hippocampal-dependent memory in old rats

Neurobiology of Aging
DOI: 10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2014.01.024
  • Aging
  • Stress
  • Hippocampus
  • Memory
  • Ltp
  • Maternal Separation
  • Medicine


Abstract Exposure to chronic stress during the neonatal period is known to induce permanent long-term changes in the central nervous system and hipothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis reactivity that are associated with increased levels of depression, anxiety, and cognitive impairments. In rodents, a validated model of early life stress is the maternal separation (MS) paradigm, which has been shown to have long-term consequences for the pups that span to adulthood. We hypothesized that the early life stress-associated effects could be exacerbated with aging, because it is often accompanied by cognitive decline. Using a MS model in which rat pups were separated from their mothers for 3 hours daily, during postnatal days 2–14, we evaluated the long-term functional consequences to aged animals (70-week-old), by measuring synaptic plasticity and cognitive performance. The baseline behavioral deficits of aged control rats were further exacerbated in MS animals, indicating that early-life stress induces sustained changes in anxiety-like behavior and hippocampal-dependent memory that are maintained much later in life. We then investigated whether these differences are linked to impaired function of hippocampal neurons by recording hippocampal long-term potentiation from Schaffer collaterals/CA1 synapses. The magnitude of the hippocampal long-term potentiation induced by high-frequency stimulation was significantly lower in aged MS animals than in age-matched controls. These results substantiate the hypothesis that the neuronal and endocrine alterations induced by early-life stress are long lasting, and are able to exacerbate the mild age-associated deficits.

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