Pregnancy is a time of distinct neural, physiological and behavioral plasticity in the female. It is also a time when a growing number of women are vulnerable to stress and experience stress-related diseases, such as depression and anxiety. However, the impact of stress during gestation on the neurobiology of the mother has yet to be determined, particularly with regard to changes in the hippocampus; a brain area that plays an important role in stress-related diseases. Therefore, the aim of the present study was to understand how stress and reproductive state may alter dendritic morphology of CA1 and CA3 pyramidal neurons in the hippocampus. To do this, adult age-matched pregnant and virgin female Wistar rats were divided into two conditions: (1) control and (2) stress. Females in the stress condition were restrained for 1 h/day for the last 2 weeks of gestation and at matched time-points in virgin females. Females were sacrificed the day after the last restraint session and brains were processed for Golgi impregnation. Dendritic length and number of branch points were quantified for apical and basal regions of CA1 and CA3 pyramidal neurons. Results show that regardless of reproductive state, stressed females had significantly shorter apical dendrites and fewer apical branch points in CA3 pyramidal cells. In addition, pregnant females, regardless of stress exposure, had less complex CA3 pyramidal neurons, as measured by Sholl analysis. No differences between conditions were seen in morphology of CA1 pyramidal neurons. This work shows that both repeated restraint stress and pregnancy affect dendritic morphology by decreasing complexity of CA3, but not CA1, neurons in the hippocampus.
|Publication status||Published - 27 Dec 2012|