Neonatal handling increases sensitivity to acute neurodegeneration in adult rats

J Neurobiol. 2004 Sep 15;60(4):463-72. doi: 10.1002/neu.20037.


Environmental stimuli during the perinatal period can result in persistent individual differences in neural viability and cognitive functions. Earlier studies have shown that brief daily maternal separation and/or handling of rat pups during the first weeks of life reduces stress reactivity during adulthood and attenuates neuronal loss and cognitive decline during aging. In the present study we examined whether neonatal handling also affects the sensitivity of the adult brain to an acute neurotoxic insult. Postnatally handled and nonhandled control rats were left undisturbed from weaning onwards until the age of 11 months. At this age, the animals were subjected to a neurotoxic challenge by unilateral infusion of 60 mM of the glutamate analogue N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) into the nucleus basalis magnocellularis (NBM). The brains were collected to measure cholinergic cell and fiber loss. In the nonlesioned side of the brain, cholinergic cell number in the NBM and fiber density in the cortex were not different between postnatally handled and control rats. However, in the lesioned hemisphere handled animals exhibited a significantly higher loss of choline-acetyltransferase-immunoreactive and acetylcholinesterase-positive fibers in the somatosensory cortex. The present results provide evidence for an enhanced vulnerability of postnatally handled rats to acute neurodegeneration in contrast to the previously reported attenuation of spontaneous aging-related neurodegenerative processes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcholine / metabolism
  • Acetylcholinesterase / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Basal Nucleus of Meynert / drug effects
  • Basal Nucleus of Meynert / pathology
  • Basal Nucleus of Meynert / physiopathology
  • Cell Death / physiology
  • Choline O-Acetyltransferase / metabolism
  • Cholinergic Fibers / pathology
  • Corticosterone / blood
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality / physiology
  • Handling, Psychological*
  • Immunity, Innate / physiology*
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Male
  • Maternal Deprivation*
  • N-Methylaspartate
  • Nerve Degeneration / chemically induced
  • Nerve Degeneration / pathology
  • Nerve Degeneration / physiopathology*
  • Neurotoxins
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Stress, Psychological / blood
  • Stress, Psychological / pathology
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology*


  • Neurotoxins
  • N-Methylaspartate
  • Choline O-Acetyltransferase
  • Acetylcholinesterase
  • Acetylcholine
  • Corticosterone