Effects of neonatal dexamethasone exposure on adult neuropsychiatric traits in rats

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4 Citations (Scopus)


The effects of early life stress in utero or in neonates has long-term consequences on hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) stress axis function and neurodevelopment. These effects extend into adulthood and may underpin a variety of mental illnesses and be related to various developmental and cognitive changes. We examined the potential role of neonatal HPA axis activation on adult psychopathology and dopamine sensitivity in the mature rat using neonatal exposure to the synthetic glucocorticoid receptor agonist and stress hormone, dexamethasone. We utilized a comprehensive battery of assessments for behaviour, brain function and gene expression to determine if elevated early life HPA activation is associated with adult-onset neuropsychiatric traits. Dexamethasone exposure increased startle reactivity under all conditions tested, but decreased sensitivity of sensorimotor gating to dopaminergic disruption±contrasting with what is observed in several neuropsychiatric diseases. Under certain conditions there also appeared to be mild long-term changes in stress and anxietyrelated behaviours with neonatal dexamethasone exposure. Electrophysiology revealed that there were no consistent neuropsychiatric abnormalities in auditory processing or resting state brain function with dexamethasone exposure. However, neonatal dexamethasone altered auditory cortex glucocorticoid activation, and auditory cortex synchronization. Our results indicate that neonatal HPA axis activation by dexamethasone alters several aspects of adult brain function and behaviour and may induce long-term changes in emotional stressreactivity. However, neonatal dexamethasone exposure is not specifically related to any particular neuropsychiatric disease.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0167220
Pages (from-to)1-23
Number of pages23
JournalPLoS One
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2016


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