Both long and brief maternal separation produces persistent changes in tissue levels of brain monoamines in middle-aged female rats

Neuroscience. 2007 Mar 16;145(2):738-50. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2006.12.007. Epub 2007 Jan 10.


Adverse experiences early in life are associated with an increased incidence of later psychopathology including depression. Based on evidence that dysfunction of central monoaminergic systems is involved in the pathophysiology of depression, we hypothesize that early adversity could negatively affect these systems. To test this we have investigated the effects of maternal separation, which has been suggested to model early-life stress and the development of a depression-like syndrome in the rat, on brain monoaminergic systems. Since depression is more common in women and the risk of developing this disorder appears to increase with age, we have studied such effects in middle-aged female rats. Rat pups were separated for 180 min (long maternal separation; LMS) or 15 min (brief maternal separation; BMS, often referred to as neonatal handling) twice daily for 2 weeks postpartum. An animal facility-reared (AFR) group was also included. At 15 months of age tissue levels of monoamines and their metabolites in several different brain regions were analyzed. In the LMS females tissue levels of both 5-HT and 5-hydroxyindole acetic acid (5-HIAA) were significantly increased in the dorsal raphe nucleus, and 5-HIAA and homovanillic acid levels were also elevated in the nucleus accumbens as compared with AFR and BMS rats. In the cingulate cortex both LMS and BMS decreased noradrenaline (NA) levels, although this effect was more pronounced in the LMS rats. On the other hand, BMS decreased 5-HT, 5-HIAA, dopamine (DA) as well as NA levels in the amygdala and produced an increase in DA levels in response to acute stress in the hypothalamus, an effect not seen in AFR rats. Our results demonstrate that LMS produced persistent alterations in both serotonergic, noradrenergic and dopaminergic systems in brain regions that have been suggested to be implicated in the pathophysiology of depression. In addition, BMS affected brain monoaminergic levels mainly in the amygdala.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aging / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Biogenic Monoamines / metabolism*
  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Depressive Disorder / metabolism
  • Depressive Disorder / physiopathology
  • Dopamine / metabolism
  • Down-Regulation / physiology
  • Female
  • Homovanillic Acid / metabolism
  • Hydroxyindoleacetic Acid / metabolism
  • Limbic System / anatomy & histology
  • Limbic System / metabolism
  • Maternal Deprivation*
  • Neural Pathways / anatomy & histology
  • Neural Pathways / metabolism
  • Norepinephrine / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Serotonin / metabolism
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Stress, Psychological / metabolism*
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology
  • Time
  • Time Factors
  • Up-Regulation / physiology


  • Biogenic Monoamines
  • Serotonin
  • Hydroxyindoleacetic Acid
  • Dopamine
  • Norepinephrine
  • Homovanillic Acid