Maternal mediation, stress inoculation, and the development of neuroendocrine stress resistance in primates

K. J. Parker; C. L. Buckmaster; K. Sundlass; A. F. Schatzberg; D. M. Lyons
Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2006; 103(8):3000-3005.


The stress inoculation hypothesis presupposes that brief intermittent stress exposure early in life induces the development of subsequent stress resistance in human and nonhuman primates. Rodent studies, however, suggest a role for maternal care rather than stress exposure per se (i.e., the maternal mediation hypothesis). To investigate these two hypotheses, we examined maternal care and the development of stress resistance after exposure to brief intermittent infant stress (IS), mother-infant stress (MIS), or no stress (NS) protocols administered to 30 monkeys between postnatal weeks 17 and 27. Unlike rodents, the IS condition did not permanently increase primate maternal care, nor did measures of total maternal care predict subsequent offspring hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal-axis responsivity. Although MIS infants received less maternal care than IS and NS infants, both IS and MIS monkeys developed subsequent stress resistance. These findings indicate that rearing differences in the development of stress resistance are more closely related to differences in prior stress exposure than to differences in maternal care. A second experiment confirmed this conclusion in a different cohort of 25 monkeys exposed as infants to high foraging-demand (HFD) or low foraging-demand (LFD) conditions. HFD infants exhibited intermittent elevations in cortisol levels and received less maternal care than LFD infants. In keeping with a key prediction of the stress inoculation hypothesis, HFD males responded to stress in adulthood with diminished hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal-axis activation compared with LFD males. Results from both experiments demonstrate that stress inoculation, rather than high levels of maternal care, promotes the development of primate stress resistance.