Prenatal stress alters microglial development and distribution in postnatal rat brain

Acta Neuropathol. 2010 Mar;119(3):303-15. doi: 10.1007/s00401-009-0590-4. Epub 2009 Sep 16.


Stress affects microglial function and viability during adulthood and early postnatal life; however, it is unknown whether stress to the pregnant dam might alter offspring microglia. The effects of prenatal stress on microglial development and distribution in the postnatal brain were studied using Wistar rats. Prenatal stress consisting of 20 min of forced swimming occurred on embryonic days 10-20. On postnatal days 1 and 10, stressed and control pups were killed. Microglia were identified using Griffonia simplicifolia lectin and quantified in the whole encephalon. In addition, plasma corticosterone was measured in dams at embryonic day 20, and in pups on postnatal days 1 and 10. At postnatal day 1, there was an increase in number of ramified microglia in the parietal, entorhinal and frontal cortices, septum, basal ganglia, thalamus, medulla oblongata and internal capsule in the stressed pups as compared to controls, but also there was a reduction of amoeboid microglia and the total number of microglia in the corpus callosum. By postnatal day 10, there were no differences in the morphologic type or the distribution of microglia between the prenatal stress and control groups, except in the corpus callosum; where prenatal stress decreased the number of ramified microglia. The stress procedure was effective in producing plasma rise in corticosterone levels of pregnant rats at embryonic day 20 when compared to same age controls. Prenatal stress reduced the number of immature microglia and promoted an accelerated microglial differentiation into a ramified form. These findings may be related to an increase in plasma corticosterone in the pregnant dam.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / growth & development*
  • Brain / pathology
  • Corpus Callosum / growth & development
  • Corpus Callosum / pathology
  • Corticosterone / blood
  • Corticosterone / metabolism
  • Female
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Lectins
  • Microglia / pathology*
  • Plant Lectins
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Stress, Psychological / pathology*


  • Griffonia simplicifolia lectins
  • Lectins
  • Plant Lectins
  • Corticosterone