Susceptibility or resilience? Prenatal stress predisposes male rats to social subordination, but facilitates adaptation to subordinate status

Karen A. Scott, Annette D. de Kloet, Michael D. Smeltzer, Eric G. Krause, Jonathan N. Flak, Susan J. Melhorn, Michelle T. Foster, Kellie L.K. Tamashiro, Randall R. Sakai

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Mood disorders such as major depressive disorder (MDD) affect a significant proportion of the population. Although progress has been made in the development of therapeutics, a large number of individuals do not attain full remission of symptoms and adverse side effects affect treatment compliance for some. In order to develop new therapies, there is a push for new models that better reflect the multiple risk factors that likely contribute to the development of depressive illness. We hypothesized that early life stress would exacerbate the depressive-like phenotype that we have previously observed in socially subordinate (SUB) adult male rats in the visible burrow system (VBS), a semi-natural, ethologically relevant environment in which males in a colony form a dominance hierarchy. Dams were exposed to chronic variable stress (CVS) during the last week of gestation, resulting in a robust and non-habituating glucocorticoid response that did not alter maternal food intake, body weight or litter size and weight. As adults, one prenatal CVS (PCVS) and one non-stressed (NS) male were housed in the VBS with adult females. Although there were no overt differences between PCVS and NS male offspring prior to VBS housing, a greater percentage of PCVS males became SUB. However, the depressive-like phenotype of SUB males was not exacerbated in PCVS males; rather, they appeared to better cope with SUB status than NS SUB males. They had lower basal plasma corticosterone than NS SUB males at the end of VBS housing. In situ hybridization for CRH in the PVN and CeA did not reveal any prenatal treatment or status effects, while NPY expression was higher within the MeA of dominant and subordinate males exposed to the VBS in comparison with controls, but with no effect of prenatal treatment. These data suggest that prenatal chronic variable stress may confer resilience to offspring when exposed to social stress in adulthood.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)117-125
Number of pages9
JournalPhysiology and Behavior
StatePublished - Sep 1 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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