Maternal stress affects postnatal growth and the pituitary expression of prolactin in mouse offspring

J Neurosci Res. 2011 Mar;89(3):329-40. doi: 10.1002/jnr.22550. Epub 2010 Dec 17.


Maternal stress exerts long-lasting psychiatric and somatic on offspring, which persist into adulthood. However, the effect of maternal stress on the postnatal growth of pups has not been widely reported. In this study, we found that maternal immobilization stress (IS) during lactation resulted in low body weight of male mouse offspring, which persisted after weaning. Despite free access to chow, IS induced maternal malnutrition and decreased the serum insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) levels in the mothers and in the pups. mRNA expression analysis of anterior pituitary hormones in the pups revealed that growth hormone (GH) and prolactin (PRL), but no other hormones, were decreased by IS. Expression of the pituitary transcription factor PIT1 and isoforms of PITX2, which are essential for the development and function of GH-producing somatotropes and PRL-producing lactotropes, was decreased, whereas that of PROP1, which is critical for the earlier stages of pituitary development, was unchanged. Immunohistochemistry also showed a decrease in pituitary PRL protein expression. These results suggest that stress in a postpartum mother has persistent effects on the body weight of the offspring. Reduced PRL expression in the offspring's pituitary gland may play a role in these effects.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Animal Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Body Weight
  • Eating
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental / physiology*
  • Growth Hormone / genetics
  • Growth Hormone / metabolism
  • Homeodomain Proteins / genetics
  • Homeodomain Proteins / metabolism
  • Male
  • Maternal Exposure*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred ICR
  • Pituitary Gland / metabolism*
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / pathology*
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / physiopathology*
  • Prolactin / genetics
  • Prolactin / metabolism*
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology
  • Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism


  • Homeodomain Proteins
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Transcription Factors
  • homeobox protein PITX2
  • Prolactin
  • Growth Hormone