The developmental impact of prenatal stress, prenatal dexamethasone and postnatal social stress on physiology, behaviour and neuroanatomy of primate offspring: studies in rhesus macaque and common marmoset

Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2011 Mar;214(1):33-53. doi: 10.1007/s00213-010-1989-2. Epub 2010 Sep 1.


Rationale: Exposure of the immature mammalian brain to stress factors, including stress levels of glucocorticoids, either prenatally or postnatally, is regarded as a major regulatory factor in short- and long-term brain function and, in human, as a major aetiological factor in neuropsychiatric disorders. Experimental human studies are not feasible and animal studies are required to demonstrate causality and elucidate mechanisms. A number of studies have been conducted and reviewed in rodents but there are relatively few studies in primates.

Objectives: Here we present an overview of our published studies and some original data on the effects of: (1) prenatal stress on hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) re/activity and hippocampus neuroanatomy in juvenile-adolescent rhesus macaques; (2) prenatal dexamethasone (DEX) on HPA activity, behaviour and prefrontal cortex neuroanatomy in infant-adolescent common marmosets; (3) postnatal daily parental separation stress on HPA re/activity, behaviour, sleep and hippocampus and prefrontal cortex neuroanatomy in infant-adolescent common marmoset.

Results: Prenatal stress increased basal cortisol levels and reduced neurogenesis in macaque. Prenatal DEX was without effect on HPA activity and reduced social play and skilled motor behaviour in marmoset. Postnatal social stress increased basal cortisol levels, reduced social play, increased awakening and reduced hippocampal glucocorticoid and mineralocorticoid receptor expression in marmoset.

Conclusions: Perinatal stress-related environmental events exert short- and long-term effects on HPA function, behaviour and brain status in rhesus macaque and common marmoset. The mechanisms mediating the enduring effects remain to be elucidated, with candidates including increased basal HPA function and epigenetic programming.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / drug effects
  • Callithrix
  • Dexamethasone / pharmacology*
  • Female
  • Glucocorticoids / pharmacology
  • Hippocampus / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / metabolism
  • Macaca mulatta
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / metabolism
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / etiology
  • Pregnancy Complications / physiopathology
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / physiopathology*
  • Stress, Psychological / complications*


  • Glucocorticoids
  • Dexamethasone