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Early life protein malnutrition changes exploration of the elevated plus-maze and reactivity to anxiolytics


In order to investigate whether protein malnutrition in early life causes lasting changes in reactivity to anxiolytic drugs, exploration of the elevated plus-maze was used. Rat dams during lactation (21 days) and pups after weaning until day 49 of life were fed on 8% casein diet (M rats), while their well-nourished controls received 25% casein (W rats). From day 50 on all animals ate the same balanced diet. Experiments started on day 70. Under the non-drug condition, M rats tended to explore the open arms of the maze relatively more than W rats. Diazepam (0.5–5 mg/kg, IP) dose-dependently increased the percentage of open/total arm entries without significantly affecting the total number of arm entries in W rats. This selective anxiolytic effect of diazepam was considerably smaller in M rats. Ipsapirone (0.5–5 mg/kg) caused a similar though less pronounced anxiolytic effect in W rats, whereas the drug decreased both the % open/total and total arm entries in M rats. In contrast, ritanserin (0.05–1 mg/kg) significantly increased the % open/total arm entries in M rats only, though not in a dose-dependent way. Isamoltane (2.5–20 mg/kg) was ineffective on both M and W rats. These results indicate that early protein malnutrition causes long-lasting alterations in brain systems regulating emotional behaviour.

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Almeida, S.S., de Oliveira, L.M. & Graeff, F.G. Early life protein malnutrition changes exploration of the elevated plus-maze and reactivity to anxiolytics. Psychopharmacology 103, 513–518 (1991).

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Key words

  • Early protein malnutrition
  • Elevated plusmaze
  • Diazepam
  • Non-benzodiazepine anxiolytics
  • 5-HT
  • Rat