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Maternal care affects male and female offspring working memory and stress reactivity Barha, Cindy

Abstract

Variations in maternal care affect the development of individual differences in learning and memory and neuroendocrine responses to stress in adult male offspring, but it is not known how variations in maternal care affect adult female offspring. The present study investigated the performance of adult Sprague-Dawley male and female offspring exposed to either low or high levels of maternal licking/grooming on a spatial learning and memory task (Experiment 1) and the effects of acute stress on corticosterone levels and spatial memory performance (Experiment 2). In Experiment 1 rats were trained for 24 days on the spatial working/reference memory version of the radial arm maze (RAM). In experiment 2, rats were trained on the same R AM task, exposed to an acute stress, and the effect of stress on corticosterone levels and subsequent spatial memory was examined. In experiment 1, adult female offspring of low licking/grooming dams had enhanced working memory compared to all other groups. In experiment 2, all groups of male and female offspring had enhanced working memory 24h after exposure to acute 2h restraint stress while reference memory was enhanced after stress in male and female offspring of low licking/grooming dams. Furthermore, female offspring of low licking/grooming dams showed the largest corticosterone response to the acute restraint stress compared to all other groups. Male offspring of low licking/grooming dams showed a flattened corticosterone response to stress. Thus variations in maternal care differentially affect working memory and stress reactivity in male and female offspring.

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