Involvement of Nitric Oxide, Neurotrophins and HPA Axis in Neurobehavioural Alterations Induced by Prenatal Stress
Several studies suggest that negative emotions during pregnancy generate adverse effects on the cognitive, behavioural and emotional development of the descendants. The psychoneuroendocrine pathways involve the transplacentary passage of maternal glucocorticoids in order to influence directly on fetal growth and brain development.
Nitric oxide is a gaseous neurotransmitter that plays an important role in the control of neural activity by diffusing into neurons and participates in learning and memory processes. It has been demonstrated that nitric oxide is involved in the regulation of corticosterone secretion. Thus, it has been found that the neuronal isoform of nitric oxide synthase (nNOS) is an endogenous inhibitor of glucocorticoid receptor (GR) in the hippocampus and that nNOS in the hippocampus may participate in the modulation of hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis activity via GR.
Neurotrophins are a family of secreted growth factors consisting of nerve growth factor (NGF), brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), neurotrophin 3 (NT3) and NT4. Although initially described in the nervous system, they regulate processes such as cell survival, proliferation and differentiation in several other compartments. It has been demonstrated that the NO–citrulline cycle acts together with BDNF in maintaining the progress of neural differentiation.
In the present chapter, we explore the interrelation between nitric oxide, glucocorticoids and neurotrophins in brain areas that are key structures in learning and memory processes. The participation of this interrelation in the behavioural and cognitive alterations induced in the offspring by maternal stress is also addressed.
KeywordsMaternal stress Nitric oxide Neurotrophins Central nervous system Behaviour
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