Maternal glucocorticoid deficit affects hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal function and behavior of rat offspring

Jennifer Slone Wilcoxon*, Eva E. Redei

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


Detrimental consequences of prenatal stress include increased hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) function, anxiety and depression-like behavior in adult offspring. To identify the role of maternal corticosterone milieu in the fetal programming of adult function, we measured these same behavioral and hormonal endpoints after maternal adrenalectomy (ADX) and replacement with normal or moderately high levels of corticosterone (CORT). Adult male and female offspring exhibited differing HPA responses to maternal ADX. In female offspring of ADX mothers, exaggerated plasma ACTH stress responses were reversed by the higher, but not the lower, dose of maternal CORT. In contrast, male offspring of both ADX and ADX dams with higher CORT replacement showed exaggerated ACTH stress responses. Hypothalamic glucocorticoid receptor (GR) expression was decreased in these latter groups, while hippocampal GR increased only in the ADX offspring. Activity of young offspring of ADX dams replaced with the higher dose of CORT decreased in the open field test of exploration/anxiety, while immobility behavior of adult offspring in the forced swim test of depression increased following maternal ADX or higher levels of CORT replacement. Interestingly, for some measures, none or moderately high CORT replacement resulted in similar deficits in this study. These findings are in accord with consequences of prenatal stress or prenatal dexamethasone exposure, suggesting that a common mechanism may underlie the effects of too low or too high maternal glucocorticoids on adult HPA function and behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)321-327
Number of pages7
JournalHormones and Behavior
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2007


  • Birth weight
  • Glucocorticoid receptor
  • Maternal adrenalectomy
  • Stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Behavioral Neuroscience

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