Early-life stress is associated with gender-based vulnerability to epileptogenesis in rat pups

PLoS One. 2012;7(8):e42622. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0042622. Epub 2012 Aug 3.


During development, the risk of developing mesial temporal lobe epilepsy (MTLE) increases when the developing brain is exposed to more than one insult in early life. Early life insults include abnormalities of cortical development, hypoxic-ischemic injury and prolonged febrile seizures. To study epileptogenesis, we have developed a two-hit model of MTLE characterized by two early-life insults: a freeze lesion-induced cortical malformation at post-natal day 1 (P1), and a prolonged hyperthermic seizure (HS) at P10. As early life stressors lead to sexual dimorphism in both acute response and long-term outcome, we hypothesized that our model could lead to gender-based differences in acute stress response and long-term risk of developing MTLE. Male and female pups underwent a freeze-lesion induced cortical microgyrus at P1 and were exposed to HS at P10. Animals were monitored by video-EEG from P90 to P120. Pre and post-procedure plasma corticosterone levels were used to measure stress response at P1 and P10. To confirm the role of sex steroids, androgenized female pups received daily testosterone injections to the mother pre-natally and post-natally for nine days while undergoing both insults. We demonstrated that after both insults females did not develop MTLE while all males did. This correlated with a rise in corticosterone levels at P1 following the lesion in males only. Interestingly, all androgenized females showed a similar rise in corticosterone at P1, and also developed MTLE. Moreover, we found that the cortical lesion significantly decreased the latency to generalized convulsion during hyperthermia at P10 in both genders. The cortical dysplasia volumes at adulthood were also similar between male and female individuals. Our data demonstrate sexual dimorphism in long-term vulnerability to develop epilepsy in the lesion + hyperthermia animal model of MTLE and suggest that the response to early-life stress at P1 contributes significantly to epileptogenesis in a gender-specific manner.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Androgens / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Benzoxazines
  • Cerebral Cortex / pathology
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiopathology
  • Corticosterone / blood
  • Disease Susceptibility / pathology*
  • Electroencephalography
  • Epilepsy / pathology*
  • Epilepsy / physiopathology
  • Female
  • Hyperthermia, Induced
  • Male
  • Organ Size
  • Oxazines
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Stress, Psychological / pathology*
  • Video Recording


  • Androgens
  • Benzoxazines
  • Oxazines
  • cresyl violet
  • Corticosterone

Grant support

S. Desgent was supported by postdoctoral research awards from: Epilepsy Canada,Toronto (Ontario) Canada; the SAVOY epilepsy foundation, Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu (Quebec) Canada and the Foundation of the CHU Sainte-Justine Hospital and the foundation of the stars, Montreal (Quebec) Canada. Fondation Savoy Epilepsy to LC. ML obtained the Steriade-SAVOY foundation award, Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu (Quebec) Canada and the Foundation of the CHU Sainte-Justine Hospital and the foundation of the stars scholarship, Montreal (Quebec) Canada. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.