Long-lasting effects of maternal separation on an animal model of post-traumatic stress disorder: effects on memory and hippocampal oxidative stress

Neurochem Res. 2012 Apr;37(4):700-7. doi: 10.1007/s11064-011-0660-6. Epub 2011 Nov 23.


Adverse early life events, such as periodic maternal separation, may alter the normal pattern of brain development and subsequently the vulnerability to a variety of mental disorders in adulthood. Patients with a history of early adversities show higher frequency of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This study was undertaken to verify if repeated long-term separation of pups from dams would affect memory and oxidative stress parameters after exposure to an animal model of PTSD. Nests of Wistar rats were divided into intact and subjected to maternal separation (incubator at 32°C, 3 h/day) during post-natal days 1-10. When adults, the animals were subdivided into exposed or not to a PTSD model consisting of exposure to inescapable footshock, followed by situational reminders. One month after exposure to the shock, the animals were exposed to a memory task (Morris water maze) and another month later animals were sacrificed and DNA breaks and antioxidant enzymes activities were measured in the hippocampus. Rats exposed to shock or maternal separation plus shock showed long-lasting effects on spatial memory, spending more time in the opposite quadrant of the water maze. This effect was higher in animals subjected to both maternal separation and shock. Both shock and maternal separation induced a higher score of DNA breaks in the hippocampus. No differences were observed on antioxidant enzymes activities. In conclusion, periodic maternal separation may increase the susceptibility to the effects of a stressor applied in adulthood on performance in the water maze. Increased DNA breaks in hippocampus was induced by both, maternal separation and exposure to shock.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • DNA Damage / physiology
  • Disease Models, Animal*
  • Female
  • Hippocampus / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Maternal Deprivation*
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Oxidative Stress / physiology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / metabolism*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology
  • Time Factors