Previous studies have shown a relationship between adversity in adolescence and health outcomes in adulthood in a sex-specific manner. Adolescence is characterized by major changes in stress-responsive regions of the brain, including the hippocampus, the site of ongoing neurogenesis throughout the lifespan. Prepubertal male and female rats exhibit different acute reactions to chronic stress compared to adults, but less is known about whether these stress-induced changes persist into adulthood. Therefore, in this study, we investigated the effects of chronic, intermittent stress during adolescence on basal corticosterone levels, dentate gyrus (DG) volume, and neurogenesis in the hippocampus of adult male and female Sprague-Dawley rats. Adolescent male and female rats were either restrained for 1 h every other day for 3 weeks from postnatal days (PDs) 30-52 at unpredictable times or left undisturbed. All rats received a single injection of bromodeoxyuridine (BrdU; 200 mg/kg) in adulthood on PD70 and were perfused 3 weeks later. Brains were processed for Ki67 (endogenous marker of cell proliferation) and BrdU (to estimate effects on cell survival). In addition, blood samples were taken during the restraint stress period and in adulthood. Results show that males and females exhibit different corticosterone responses to chronic stress during adolescence and that only adult female rats exposed to stress during adolescence show higher basal corticosterone levels compared to nonstressed controls. Furthermore, stressed females showed a reduced number of proliferating and surviving cells in the DG in adulthood compared to nonstressed same-sex controls. The majority of BrdU-labeled cells were co-labeled with NeuN, an endogenous marker of mature neurons, indicating that neurogenesis was decreased in the DG of adult female rats that had undergone chronic restraint stress in adolescence. Although male rats were more responsive to the chronic stress as adolescents showing higher corticosterone levels and reduced body weight, as adults they showed a slight increase in cell survival and no effect of adolescent stress on basal corticosterone levels. These results suggest that stress during adolescence can have effects on hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis function and hippocampus plasticity in adulthood, particularly in female rats.
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