Early stress and genetic influences on hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis functioning in adulthood

UMMS Affiliation

Department of Psychiatry

Publication Date


Document Type



Adrenocorticotropic Hormone; Animals; Cold Temperature; Corticosterone; Electroshock; Female; Genotype; Helplessness, Learned; Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System; Maternal Deprivation; Pituitary-Adrenal System; Pregnancy; Rats; Rats, Inbred Strains; Rats, Sprague-Dawley; Species Specificity; Stress, Psychological




During early development, environmental challenges set the stage for permanent changes in the functioning of the pituitary-adrenal stress response. Since these data have been reported almost exclusively in single rat strains the role of phenotypic and genotypic factors in shaping the stress response is relatively unknown. This study examined whether the phenotypic/genetic profile of the rat influences the long-term response to challenge after early exposure to stress. Two strains of Sprague-Dawley rats were used in this study: one is a stress-induced animal model of "learned helpless" (LH) behavior and the other a resistant strain developed through selective breeding. Stress-induced adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) and corticosterone release was monitored in adult congenital learned helpless (cLH) rats and congenital non-learned helpless (cNLH) rats. The rats were exposed to cold stress or maternal deprivation (on either postnatal day 7 or day 21). After the early acute stress exposure, animals remained undisturbed until challenged in adulthood (day 90) with footshock stress. In cLH animals (adults) early cold stress (particularly after acute stress on postnatal day 21) and maternal deprivation stress resulted in an enhancement of stress-induced ACTH release compared to nonstressed cLH and cNLH controls. In contrast, adrenal responsiveness was generally suppressed in cLH animals that were acutely stressed with cold stress or maternal deprivation stress early in life. The above results suggest that the genetic/phenotypic profile of the animal is a determinant in the changes observed in the adult stress response after early exposure to stressors.

DOI of Published Version



Horm Behav. 1999 Oct;36(2):79-85. Link to article on publisher's site

Journal/Book/Conference Title

Hormones and behavior

Related Resources

Link to Article in PubMed

PubMed ID