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Maternal Care during Infancy Regulates the Development of Neural Systems Mediating the Expression of Fearfulness in the Rat

Christian Caldji, Beth Tannenbaum, Shakti Sharma, Darlene Francis, Paul M. Plotsky and Michael J. Meaney
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Vol. 95, No. 9 (Apr. 28, 1998), pp. 5335-5340
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/44714
Page Count: 6
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
Maternal Care during Infancy Regulates the Development of Neural Systems Mediating the Expression of Fearfulness in the Rat
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Abstract

The mothers of infant rats show individual differences in the frequency of licking/grooming and arched-back nursing (LG-ABN) of pups that contribute to the development of individual differences in behavioral responses to stress. As adults, the offspring of mothers that exhibited high levels of LG-ABN showed substantially reduced behavioral fearfulness in response to novelty compared with the offspring of low LG-ABN mothers. In addition, the adult offspring of the high LG-ABN mothers showed significantly (i) increased central benzodiazepine receptor density in the central, lateral, and basolateral nuclei of the amygdala as well as in the locus ceruleus, (ii) increased α 2 adrenoreceptor density in the locus ceruleus, and (iii) decreased corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) receptor density in the locus ceruleus. The expression of fear and anxiety is regulated by a neural circuitry that includes the activation of ascending noradrenergic projections from the locus ceruleus to the forebrain structures. Considering the importance of the amygdala, notably the anxiogenic influence of CRH projections from the amygdala to the locus ceruleus, as well as the anxiolytic actions of benzodiazepines, for the expression of behavioral responses to stress, these findings suggest that maternal care during infancy serves to ``program'' behavioral responses to stress in the offspring by altering the development of the neural systems that mediate fearfulness.

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