Neonatal maternal separation delays the GABA excitatory-to-inhibitory functional switch by inhibiting KCC2 expression

Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 2017 Nov 25;493(3):1243-1249. doi: 10.1016/j.bbrc.2017.09.143. Epub 2017 Sep 28.


The excitatory-to-inhibitory functional switch of γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA; GABA switch), which normally occurs in the first to the second postnatal week in the hippocampus, is necessary for the development of appropriate central nervous system function. A deficit in GABAergic inhibitory function could cause excitatory/inhibitory (E/I) neuron imbalance that is found in many neurodegenerative disorders. In the present study, we examined whether neonatal stress can affect the timing of the GABA functional switch and cause disorders during adolescence. Neonatal stress was induced in C57BL/6J male mouse pups by maternal separation (MS) on postnatal days (PND) 1-21. Histological quantification of K+-Cl- co-transporter (KCC2) and Ca2+ imaging were performed to examine the timing of the GABA switch during the MS period. To evaluate the influence of neonatal MS on adolescent hippocampal function, we quantified KCC2 expression and evaluated hippocampal-related behavioral tasks at PND35-38. We showed that MS delayed the timing of the GABA switch in the hippocampus and inhibited the increase in membrane KCC2 expression, with KCC2 expression inhibition persisting until adolescence. Behavioral tests showed impaired cognition, declined attention, hyperlocomotion, and aggressive character in maternally separated mice. Taken together, our results show that neonatal stress delayed the timing of the GABA switch, which could change the E/I balance and cause neurodegenerative disorders in later life.

Keywords: Early life stress; GABA; KCC2; Maternal separation; NKCC1.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Calcium / analysis
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Female
  • Hippocampus / metabolism*
  • Hippocampus / physiology
  • Male
  • Maternal Deprivation*
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Solute Carrier Family 12, Member 2 / metabolism
  • Stress, Psychological / metabolism*
  • Symporters / metabolism*
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / metabolism*


  • Slc12a2 protein, mouse
  • Solute Carrier Family 12, Member 2
  • Symporters
  • potassium-chloride symporters
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid
  • Calcium