Reproductive experience alters anxiety-like behavior in the female rat

Horm Behav. 2006 Jun;50(1):70-6. doi: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2006.01.006. Epub 2006 Mar 9.


Reproductive experience (i.e. pregnancy and lactation) results in significant alterations in subsequent hormone levels in female rats. Several studies have demonstrated that circulating hormones can significantly affect anxiety-like behavior. Thus, the purpose of the present study was to determine whether reproductive experience induces alterations in anxiety-like behaviors in cycling female rats and in older, reproductively senescent rats. In Experiment 1, the elevated plus maze (EPM) was used to test young cycling (6-8 weeks post-weaning) and middle-aged (32-36 weeks post-weaning) primiparous rats and their age-matched nulliparous counterparts for anxiety-like responses. In Experiment 2, activity in the open field was used as an additional measure of anxiety-like behavior in young (proestrus) and middle-aged (constant estrus) primiparous and nulliparous rats. For Experiment 3, EPM testing was conducted in separate groups of young and middle-aged animals tested two weeks after ovariectomy. The results revealed that during proestrus, primiparous animals exhibited fewer anxiety-like behaviors on the EPM compared to nulliparous controls. In middle-aged animals, however, parity was associated with increased anxiety-like behavior. In the open field, young, non-lactating primiparous animals again exhibited fewer anxiety-like behaviors compared to nulliparous controls, an effect that was reversed in middle-aged animals. Effects of reproductive experience on the EPM in both age groups were eliminated by ovariectomy. Overall, the findings indicate that reproductive experience significantly alters anxiety-like behavior, effects that are influenced by the endocrine status and/or age of the female.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Anxiety / blood*
  • Estradiol / blood
  • Estrous Cycle / blood*
  • Exploratory Behavior / physiology*
  • Female
  • Gravidity / physiology*
  • Parity / physiology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Progesterone / blood
  • Prolactin / blood
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley


  • Progesterone
  • Estradiol
  • Prolactin