Prenatal Stress Increases Both Learned and Unlearned Fear in Adult Rats
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The amygdala is critical in generating the emotion of fear. Exposure to stress during prenatal development is associated with changes in fear- and anxiety-like behavior. To examine the influence of prenatal stress on emotional behavior in adults, offspring of prenatal-stressed (PNS) and unstressed control (USC) dams were evaluated on behavioral tests (one pup per litter on each), including fear-potentiated startle, elevated plus maze, open field test, and three-chambered social approach. Fear-potentiated startle indicated that USC rats had less conditioned fear than PNS rats, suggesting higher learned fear in the PNS group. The elevated plus maze indicated that USC rats had a higher preference for the open arms than PNS rats, suggesting a tendency toward increased anxiety-like behavior in the PNS group. The open field test showed no difference in locomotor behavior between USC and PNS rats. This project shed light on the impact that early life experience has on adult behavior relevant to psychopathologies such as mood and anxiety disorders.