, Volume 128, Issue 3, pp 227-239

The effects of early postnatal stimulation on Morris water-maze acquisition in adult mice: genetic and maternal factors

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Abstract

 Following stressor exposure BALB/cByJ mice exhibit hypersecretion of corticosterone and marked brain catecholamine alterations. In addition, mice of this strain exhibit impairments of performance in a Morris water-maze, which may be exacerbated by footshock application. In the present investigation it was demonstrated that early-life handling of mouse pups (coupled with brief separation periods from the dam over the course of 21 days postpartum) reduced the learning impairments seen when mice were tested in the Morris water-maze at 120 days of age and also prevented stress-induced disturbances in this task. Likewise, cross-fostering BALB/cByJ mice with a C57BL/6ByJ dam prevented the performance deficits. In contrast, C57BL/6ByJ mice cross-fostered to a BALB/cByJ dam exhibited proficient performance. Thus, maternal factors may be important in determining the Morris water-maze disturbances, provided that this was applied on the BALB/cByJ genetic background. Stressor exposure exacerbated the performance disturbances in BALB/cByJ mice, while diazepam treatment disrupted Morris water-maze performance in both BALB/cByJ and C57BL/6ByJ mice. Paralleling the behavioral changes associated with handling, the stress-induced hypercorticosterone secretion characteristic of the BALB/cByJ mouse was attenuated by the early handling procedure. Stressor exposure also produced strain-dependent variations of NE and 5-HT, but these effects were not appreciably influenced by the handling procedure. These data are consistent with the proposition that performance disturbances of BALB/cByJ mice tested in the Morris water-maze task are associated with excessive hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal reactivity. Moreover, it appears that the influence of early-life stimulation may interact with genetic factors in determining endocrine and behavioral stress responses.

Received: 11 October 1995 / Final version: 22 June 1996