Early emergence of increased fearful behavior in prenatally stressed rats

Physiol Behav. 2005 Nov 15;86(4):586-93. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2005.08.025. Epub 2005 Sep 28.


We have been studying the mildly prenatally stressed (PS) rat as a potentially useful animal model of anxiety disorders. Previously we have demonstrated that there are anatomical and biochemical alterations in the amygdalas of adult PS offspring and that these offspring show increased fearful behaviors. However, human data indicate that anxiety disorders often present first in early childhood and then persist throughout adolescence and adulthood. To determine if PS rats also model this characteristic of human anxiety disorders, here we asked whether behavioral indices of increased fear would be detectable at an early age. We tested the hypotheses that young PS rats would show increased behavioral fearfulness in response to an acute stressor and that this would increase with age. A mild prenatal stressor, consisting of removal of the dam from the home cage and administration of a subcutaneous injection of 0.1 ml of 0.9% saline daily, was administered during the last week of pregnancy. Offspring were tested in the defensive-withdrawal apparatus before and after exposure to restraint stress at 25, 45 and 60 days of age. PS animals showed increased defensive-withdrawal behavior following the stressor and were more fearful following restraint when compared to controls (CON). This was significant at P45 and increased to P60. Hence, fearful behaviors in PS rats emerge prior to sexual maturation and increase in magnitude thereafter, further validating our model as a means to investigate the underpinnings of anxiety disorders.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anxiety Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Exploratory Behavior / physiology
  • Fear / physiology*
  • Female
  • Gestational Age
  • Injections, Subcutaneous
  • Motor Activity / physiology
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Restraint, Physical
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology*