Long-term effects of prenatal stress on HPA axis activity in juvenile rhesus monkeys

Dev Psychobiol. 1994 Jul;27(5):257-69. doi: 10.1002/dev.420270502.


The effect of stress to the pregnant mother on hormonal responses of the offspring to stressful events was investigated in juvenile rhesus monkeys. Six pregnant monkeys were repeatedly removed from their home cages and exposed to unpredictable noise during mid- to late gestation (Days 90-145 postconception), while six undisturbed pregnant mothers served as controls. Blood samples were collected from the juvenile offspring under anesthesia on four occasions and assayed for ACTH and cortisol. In a second experiment, blood samples were collected from the awake offspring under a baseline and four progressively stressful conditions. Offspring of stressed mothers showed higher ACTH and cortisol levels than control offspring at all four anesthesia samples and at a nonanesthesized home cage baseline. Prenatally stressed offspring also showed higher ACTH values in all four stress conditions. Cortisol values were similar for the two groups under the stress conditions. The disparity between the two groups in the relationship between ACTH and cortisol was greatest in the most stressful condition, suggesting regulatory differences between the two groups. These results indicate that offspring of primate mothers stressed during pregnancy show enhanced HPA axis responsivity to stressors later in life, and concur with rodent findings indicating that prenatal stress may have long-term effects on HPA axis regulation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone / blood
  • Animals
  • Arousal / physiology
  • Female
  • Hydrocortisone / blood
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / physiology*
  • Macaca mulatta
  • Male
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects*
  • Stress, Psychological / complications*
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology


  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone
  • Hydrocortisone