Adverse early-life experiences are risk factors for psychiatric disease development, resulting in stress-related neuronal modeling and neurobehavioral changes. Stressful experiences modulate the immune system, contributing to neuronal damage in higher cortical regions, like the hippocampus. Moreover, early-life stressors dysregulate the function of microglia, the resident immune cells of the brain, in the developing hippocampus. Paternal deprivation, an early-life stressor in many biparental species, facilitates sex-dependent inhibitions in hippocampal plasticity, but parental contributors to these sex-specific outcomes are unknown. Also, neurobiological mechanisms contributing to impairments in hippocampal neuroplasticity are less known. Thus, our goals were to 1) determine whether parental behavior is altered in maternal females following removal of the paternal male, 2) assess the effects of paternal deprivation on dentate gyrus (DG) volume and microglia proliferation, and 3) determine if early-life experimental handling mitigates sex-specific reductions in DG cell survival. California mice were born to multiparous breeders and reared by both parents (biparental care) or by their mother alone (i.e., father removed on postnatal day 1; paternal deprivation). One cohort of offspring underwent offspring retrieval tests for eight days beginning on postnatal day 2. On PND 68, these offspring (and a second cohort of mice without behavioral testing) were euthanized and brains visualized for bromodeoxyuridine (BrdU) and neuron-specific class III beta-tubulin (TuJ-1) or ionized calcium binding adaptor molecule 1 (Iba1). While mate absence did not impair maternal retrieval, paternal deprivation reduced DG volume, but Iba1+ cell density was only higher in paternally-deprived females. Neither sex or paternal deprivation significantly altered the number of BrdU+ or Tuj1+ cells in the DG - an absence of a reduction in cell survival may be related to daily handing during early offspring retrieval tests. Together, these data suggest that paternal deprivation impairs hippocampal plasticity; however, sex and early environment may influence the magnitude of these outcomes.
Keywords: Cell survival; Early-life stress; Hippocampus; Microglia; Parental behavior; Peromyscus; Sex differences.
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