Analysis of the Effects of Stress on Developmental Assembly of CNS Circuitry

Following the success of the pseudorabies project, the Network initiated a follow-up project to study the effects of stress on the formation of neural connections from the forebrain to the brainstem (the vital core components of the brain controlling functions essential for survival, including respiration, heart rhythm, blood pressure, eating, drinking, and sleep).

This study was designed to help determine how different early experiences in rats cause changes in how early connections between the forebrain and brainstem are established – either in how the connections are organized, or when the connections are formed. The experiment found that the underlying biological mechanisms for handling stress as adult rats change as a result of stressful experiences (handling and separation) encountered as pups. Rat pups that are repeatedly handled and separated from their mother exhibit altered adult behavioral, endocrine, and autonomic responses to stress, but the extent to which early handlingand/or maternal separation alters the development of circuitsthat underlie these responses was previously unknown.