Reduced stress responsiveness in pregnancy: relationship with pattern of forebrain c-fos mRNA expression.

Richard Windle, Susan Wood, Yvonne Kershaw, Stafford Lightman, Colin Ingram

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review


Stress-induced activation of the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is known to be attenuated during late pregnancy and throughout lactation. To investigate the neural basis of this stress hyporesponsiveness we examined the changes in the restraint-induced HPA response and accompanying forebrain expression of c-fos mRNA that occur in rats between days 16 (D16) and 19 (D19) of gestation, times associated with declining levels of progesterone, a potential mediating factor. Compared to D16, the D19 group showed a significantly attenuated release of ACTH following 30min restraint. This reduced HPA response was accompanied by significantly lower levels of restraint-induced c-fos mRNA expression in the hypothalamic paraventricular nucleus. Other areas of the forebrain, including medial amygdala, piriform cortex, and ventrolateral septum, showed low c-fos mRNA expression in non-stressed (control) animals and a large increase following restraint, the magnitude of which was similar between D16 and D19 animals indicating no involvement in the differential HPA response to stress. However, a markedly different pattern of c-fos mRNA expression was observed in other brain areas, including barrel cortex and CA1 ventral and CA3 regions of the ventral hippocampus: D19 animals had low control expression which was increased by restraint, but D16 control animals had raised c-fos mRNA expression which was not further elevated by stress. These data demonstrate that region-specific changes in basal and stress-induced cellular activity occur during a period of late gestation coincident with attenuated HPA responsiveness. These changes in neuronal activity may contribute to the adaptive processes that prepare the mother for parturition and lactation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)102-109
JournalBrain Research
Publication statusPublished - 2010

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