Cerebral Erythropoietin Prevents Sex-Dependent Disruption of Respiratory Control Induced by Early Life Stress

Front Physiol. 2021 Dec 20;12:701344. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2021.701344. eCollection 2021.


Injuries that occur early in life are often at the root of adult illness. Neonatal maternal separation (NMS) is a form of early life stress that has persistent and sex-specific effects on the development of neural networks, including those that regulate breathing. The release of stress hormones during a critical period of development contributes to the deleterious consequences of NMS, but the role of increased corticosterone (CORT) in NMS-induced respiratory disturbance is unknown. Because erythropoietin (EPO) is a potent neuroprotectant that prevents conditions associated with hyperactivation of the stress neuroaxis in a sex-specific manner, we hypothesized that EPO reduces the sex-specific alteration of respiratory regulation induced by NMS in adult mice. Animals were either raised under standard conditions (controls) or exposed to NMS 3 h/day from postnatal days 3-12. We tested the efficacy of EPO in preventing the effects of NMS by comparing wild-type mice with transgenic mice that overexpress EPO only in the brain (Tg21). In 7-days-old pups, NMS augmented CORT levels ~2.5-fold by comparison with controls but only in males; this response was reduced in Tg21 mice. Respiratory function was assessed using whole-body plethysmography. Apneas were detected during sleep; the responsiveness to stimuli was measured by exposing mice to hypoxia (10% O2; 15 min) and hypercapnia (5% CO2; 10 min). In wild-type, NMS increased the number of apneas and the hypercapnic ventilatory response (HcVR) only in males; with no effect on Tg21. In wild-type males, the incidence of apneas was positively correlated with HcVR and inversely related to the tachypneic response to hypoxia. We conclude that neural EPO reduces early life stress-induced respiratory disturbances observed in males.

Keywords: brainstem; chemosensing; corticosterone; neuroprotection; sleep apnea.