Maternal care and affective behavior in female offspring: Implication of the neurosteroid/GABAergic system
In female rats, the proestrus phase of the estrous cycle is associated with decreased levels of anxiety-like and depressive-like behavior relative to the metestrus phase. Progesterone likely modulate these behaviors, in part through the influence of its metabolite, allopregnanolone (THP) on hippocampal GABA A R subunit expression. As natural variations in maternal care have been found to influence both progesterone levels at proestrus and anxiety-like behavior in female offspring, we sought to investigate the importance of maternal care and the estrous cycle on affective behavior in female rats that had received Low or High levels of licking/grooming (LG) during early life. Subjects were tested for anxiety-like behavior in the elevated plus maze at proestrus or metestrus or for estrous cycle-dependent changes in depressive-like anhedonic behavior with a saccharin preference test. GABA A R subunit expression, and THP levels in the dorsal hippocampus and in plasma were also evaluated. Estrous cycle phase influenced saccharine preference and hippocampal THP level in both phenotypes. Low LG animals showed higher levels of hedonic behavior and anxiety-like behavior, irrespective of estrous cycle phase, as well as lower THP levels within the dorsal hippocampus when compared to High LG animals. Only High LG animals showed positive correlations between hippocampal THP levels and GABA A R subunit expression, suggesting a relative insensitivity to THP's modulation of these receptor subunits in Low LG offspring. These findings suggest that natural variations in maternal care influence anxiety-like and hedonic behavior through the modulation of the neurosteroid/GABAergic system.
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