Sex-dependent effects of prenatal stress on social memory in rats: A role for differential expression of central vasopressin-1a receptors

Natalia J Grundwald, Diana P. Benítez, Paula Brunton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Prenatal stress (PNS) affects a number of traits in the offspring including stress axis regulation, emotionality and cognition, however much less is known about the effects of PNS on social memory and the underlying central mechanisms. Here we investigated social preference, social memory under basal and stress conditions and olfactory memory for social and non-social odours in the adult offspring of dams exposed to social stress during late pregnancy. Given the key roles the central oxytocin and vasopressin system play in facilitating social memory, we further investigated the effects of PNS on the central expression of mRNA for oxytocin (Oxtr) and vasopressin-1a (Avpr1a) receptors.
PNS did not affect social preference in either sex; however social memory was impaired under basal conditions in PNS females, but not PNS males. Accordingly, Avpr1a mRNA expression in the lateral septum and bed nucleus of stria terminalis (BNST) was unaltered in males, but was significantly lower in PNS females, compared with controls. No differences in Oxtr mRNA expression were detected between control and PNS offspring in either sex in any of the brain regions examined. Social memory deficits in PNS females persisted when social odours were used; however this does not appear to be a result of impaired olfaction as memory for non-social odours was similar in control and PNS females.
Under acute stress conditions, deficits in social memory were observed in both male and female control offspring, however PNS males were unaffected. Moreover, acute stress facilitated social memory in PNS females and this was associated with an up-regulation of Avpr1a mRNA in the lateral septum and BNST. Our data support a role for altered signalling via central Avpr1a in PNS-induced sex-dependent changes in social memory and may have implications for understanding the aetiology of neurodevelopmental disorders characterised by social behaviour deficits in humans.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Neuroendocrinology
Issue number4
Early online date27 Nov 2015
Publication statusPublished - 25 Apr 2016


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