Reduced mobility but unaffected startle response in female rats exposed to prenatal dexamethasone: Different sides to a phenotype

Tidsskriftartikel - 2010


[Open access] An adverse fetal environment is strongly associated with behavioral and emotional development in later life, and environmental interactions with the genome are essential in the development of pathophysiology. This implicates that a genetic vulnerability or other predisposition may interact with the environment and stressful life events to trigger mental disease. The startle reflex is highly sensitive to fear and anxiety in humans and animals. Elevated startle magnitude has been proposed as a marker for neurodevelopmental disorders. We have recently established an animal model for possible development of anxiety, where female rats are exposed to two stressful life events, during prenatal life and as adolescents, respectively. A blood sampling procedure 3 months prior to startle testing has previously been found to increase basal startle, but only in prenatally stressed rats. As the experimental procedure of acoustic startle response (ASR) measurement resembles the aversive blood sampling procedure, this suggests that effects on ASR may be caused by aversive contextual similarities between blood sampling under restraint and the ASR test. In the present study, postnatal blood sampling was replaced by another dissimilar stressful event. Animals exposed to a high prenatal glucocorticoid level (i.e. 150 µg dexamethasone/kg) were statistically significantly more immobile in the forced swim test (FST) than animals exposed to a lower level of dexamethasone (50 µg/kg) and control animals. Exposure to a novel contextual stressor at 3 months of age (FST) was unassociated with changes in basal startle. These data suggest, since the high prenatal dexamethasone group showed increased immobility in the FST but coped equally well with controls in the ASR, that the outcome of environmental influences is determined by the individual circumstances as different situations require different coping abilities in the same individual.


Kjaer S, Wegener G, Rosenberg R, Hougaard KS. Reduced mobility but unaffected startle response in female rats exposed to prenatal dexamethasone: Different sides to a phenotype. Developmental Neuroscience 2010;32(3):208-216.
doi: 10.1159/000313914

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