Maternal separation prior to neonatal hypoxia-ischemia: Impact on emotional aspects of behavior and markers of synaptic plasticity in hippocampus

Ioanna Markostamou, Anestis Ioannidis, Evangelia Dandi, Maria-Aikaterini Mandyla, Evangelia Nousiopoulou, Constantina Simeonidou, Evangelia Spandou, Despina A Tata

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Exposure to early-life stress is associated with long-term alterations in brain and behavior, and may aggravate the outcome of neurological insults. This study aimed at investigating the possible interaction between maternal separation, a model of early stress, and subsequent neonatal hypoxia-ischemia on emotional behavior and markers of synaptic plasticity in hippocampus. Therefore, rat pups (N = 60) were maternally separated for a prolonged (MS 180min) or a brief (MS 15min) period during the first six postnatal days, while a control group was left undisturbed. Hypoxia-ischemia was applied to a subgroup of each rearing condition on postnatal day 7. Emotional behavior was examined at three months of age and included assessments of anxiety (elevated plus maze), depression-like behavior (forced swimming) and spontaneous exploration (open field). Synaptic plasticity was evaluated based on BDNF and synaptophysin expression in CA3 and dentate gyrus hippocampal regions. We found that neonatal hypoxia-ischemia caused increased levels of anxiety, depression-like behavior and locomotor activity (ambulation). Higher anxiety levels were also seen in maternally separated rats (MS180min) compared to non-maternally separated rats, but prolonged maternal separation prior to HI did not potentiate the HI-associated effect. No differences among the three rearing conditions were found regarding depression-like behavior or ambulation. Immunohistochemical evaluation of synaptophysin revealed that both prolonged maternal separation (MS180min) and neonatal hypoxia-ischemia significantly reduced its expression in the CA3 and dentate gyrus. Decreases in synaptophysin expression in these areas were not exacerbated in rats that were maternally separated for a prolonged period prior to HI. Regarding BDNF expression, we found a significant decrease in immunoreactivity only in the hypoxic-ischemic rats that were subjected to the prolonged maternal separation paradigm. The above findings suggest that early-life stress prior to neonatal hypoxia-ischemia leads to significant alterations in synaptic plasticity of the dorsal hippocampus during adulthood, but does not exacerbate HI-related changes in emotional behavior.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1–12
JournalInternational Journal of Developmental Neuroscience
Early online date7 May 2016
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2016


  • Anxiety
  • BDNF
  • Depression-like behavior
  • Neonatal stress
  • Neonatal hypoxia-ischemia
  • Synaptophysin

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