High novelty-seeking rats are resilient to negative physiological effects of the early life stress

Clinton SM, Watson SJ, Akil H
Stress. 2014; 17(1):97-107.


Exposure to early life stress dramatically impacts adult behavior, physiology, and neuroendocrine function. Using rats bred for novelty-seeking differences and known to display divergent anxiety, depression, and stress vulnerability, we examined the interaction between early life adversity and genetic predisposition for high- versus low-emotional reactivity. Thus, bred Low Novelty Responder (bLR) rats, which naturally exhibit high anxiety- and depression-like behavior, and bred High Novelty Responder (bHR) rats, which show low anxiety/depression together with elevated aggression, impulsivity, and addictive behavior, were subjected to daily 3 h maternal separation (MS) stress postnatal days 1-14. We hypothesized that MS stress would differentially impact adult bHR/bLR behavior, physiology (stress-induced defecation), and neuroendocrine reactivity. While MS stress did not impact bHR and bLR anxiety-like behavior in the open field test and elevated plus maze, it exacerbated bLRs' already high physiological response to stress - stress-induced defecation. In both tests, MS bLR adult offspring showed exaggerated stress-induced defecation compared to bLR controls while bHR offspring were unaffected. MS also selectively impacted bLRs' (but not bHRs') neuroendocrine stress reactivity, producing an exaggerated corticosterone acute stress response in MS bLR versus control bLR rats. These findings highlight how genetic predisposition shapes individuals' response to early life stress. Future work will explore neural mechanisms underlying the distinct behavioral and neuroendocrine consequences of MS in bHR/bLR animals.