This study was designed to assess the stress effect of manipulation of the olfactory environment in developing mice. In a first experiment it was found that mouse pups could be stressed (as measured by an increase in ultrasonic calls) by removing the litter from the dam for 15 min/day for the first 14 days of life and exposing them to a novel odor (clean bedding). This stress procedure also produced a long-term modification in maternal behavior. The stress response (ultrasounds) and the modification of maternal behavior were prevented by providing the litter with home cage bedding during maternal separation. In a second experiment it was demonstrated that early stress influenced apomorphine-induced wall climbing behavior in 15-day-old mice, suggesting stress-induced alterations in the dopaminergic system. Pups exposed to clean bedding during infancy exhibited more wall climbing behavior than pups never separated from the mother. Moreover, preventing the early stress response during mother-offspring separation, by providing pups with home cage bedding, eliminated the increase in apomorphine-induced wall climbing. Taken together these results suggest that olfactory cues are decisive in characterizing stressful situations inducing both immediate and long-lasting effects in mouse pups.
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