Maternal deprivation produces persistent abnormalities in behavioral and neuroendocrine functions associated with the hippocampus, a brain region that shows considerable structural change in response to experience throughout life. Here we show that adverse experience early in life affects the regulation of adult neurogenesis in the hippocampus. More specifically, a decrease in cell proliferation and immature neuron production are observed in the dentate gyrus of adult rats that are maternally separated as pups. Although maternally separated rats show normal basal levels of corticosterone, the suppression of cell proliferation in these rats can be reversed by lowering corticosterone below the control value. In addition, normal stress-induced suppression of cell proliferation and neurogenesis, despite normal activation of the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis, is not observed in maternally separated rats. Our results suggest that early adverse experience inhibits structural plasticity via hypersensitivity to glucocorticoids and diminishes the ability of the hippocampus to respond to stress in adulthood.
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