Neonatal isolation decreases cued fear conditioning and frontal cortical histone 3 lysine 9 methylation in adult female rats

Eur J Pharmacol. 2012 Dec 15;697(1-3):65-72. doi: 10.1016/j.ejphar.2012.09.040. Epub 2012 Oct 7.


Early life stress is thought to enhance adult susceptibility to stress and stress-related mood disorders. In this study, fear-potentiated startle was used to model the acquisition of a traumatic event-related memory in female rats experiencing early life stress. Daily 1-hr maternal and sibling separation throughout day 2-9 postpartum (D2-9 PP) caused a decrease in the fear-potentiated startle, but not acoustic startle baseline, in adult female rats. The separation procedure did not affect corticosterone secretion but produced an increase in serum estradiol concentration. Moreover, the separation procedure did not affect histone 3 lysine 9 (H3K9) acetylation but decreased H3K9 mono- and tri-methylation in frontal cortices. Treatment with 5-aza-2'-deoxycytidine (AZA) (5mg/kg at alternative days from D2PP to D9PP or 10mg/kg at D5PP and D9PP), a DNA methylation inhibitor, did not affect the separation-decreased fear-potentiated startle. Treatment with valproic acid (VPA), a histone deacetylase inhibitor, at 3 dosing regimens (300mg/kg at D2-9PP; 100mg/kg at D2-4PP, 200mg/kg at D5-7PP, 300mg/kg at D8-9PP; 100mg/kg at D2-5PP, 200mg/kg at D6-9PP) prior to daily separation reversed such a decrease in fear-potentiated startle. The lowest effective VPA dosing regimen used (100mg/kg at D2-5PP, 200mg/kg at D6-9PP) reversed the separation-decreased H3K9 mono- and tri-methylation in frontal cortices. Eight-day VPA (300mg/kg/day) and AZA (5mg/kg/day) administrations starting at D28PP were ineffective in altering the separation-decreased fear-potentiated startle. We, hereby, suggest that decreased frontal cortical H3K9 mono- and tri-methylation may be involved in early life separation-decreased fear memory of adult rats.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Age Factors
  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Azacitidine / analogs & derivatives
  • Azacitidine / pharmacology
  • Behavior, Animal* / drug effects
  • Cerebral Cortex / drug effects
  • Cerebral Cortex / metabolism*
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiopathology
  • Conditioning, Psychological* / drug effects
  • Corticosterone / blood
  • Cues*
  • DNA Modification Methylases / antagonists & inhibitors
  • DNA Modification Methylases / metabolism
  • Decitabine
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Down-Regulation
  • Estradiol / blood
  • Fear* / drug effects
  • Female
  • Histone Deacetylase Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Histones / metabolism*
  • Light
  • Lysine
  • Maternal Deprivation*
  • Methylation
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Reflex, Startle
  • Stress, Psychological / metabolism
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*
  • Valproic Acid / pharmacology


  • Histone Deacetylase Inhibitors
  • Histones
  • Estradiol
  • Valproic Acid
  • Decitabine
  • DNA Modification Methylases
  • Lysine
  • Azacitidine
  • Corticosterone