Environmental enrichment during adolescence reverses the effects of prenatal stress on play behaviour and HPA axis reactivity in rats

Eur J Neurosci. 2003 Dec;18(12):3367-74. doi: 10.1111/j.1460-9568.2003.03070.x.


Prenatal stress (PS) can produce profound and long-lasting perturbations of individual adaptive capacities, which in turn can result in an increased proneness to behavioural disorders. Indeed, in PS rats there is evidence of impaired social play behaviour, disturbances in a variety of circadian rhythms, enhanced anxiety and increased hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis reactivity. This study was designed to experimentally investigate the degree of reversibility of PS-induced disturbances of social play and HPA reactivity by assessing the effect of the enrichment of the physical environment on PS rats during periadolescence. PS subjects showed a reduced expression of social play behaviour and a prolonged corticosterone secretion in response to restraint stress, but both these effects were markedly reversed following environmental enrichment. Interestingly, the enrichment procedure increased social behaviour but had no effect on corticosterone secretion in nonstressed animals, indicating a differential impact of the postnatal environment as a function of prenatal background. As a whole, results clearly indicate that rats prenatally exposed to stress can benefit during periadolescence from the modulatory effects of an enriched environment. Moreover, they confirm that PS may well represent a suitable animal model for the design and testing of new therapeutic strategies for behavioural disorders produced by early insults.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Aging / physiology
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Corticosterone / blood
  • Corticosterone / metabolism
  • Environment, Controlled*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / physiopathology*
  • Male
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / physiopathology
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Social Behavior*
  • Stress, Physiological / blood
  • Stress, Physiological / physiopathology
  • Stress, Physiological / therapy*


  • Corticosterone