Postnatal Stress in Mice: Does "Stressing" the Mother Have the Same Effect as "Stressing" the Pups?

A. Moles, R. Rizzi, F. R. D'Amato

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Short- and long-term effects of brief maternal separation, maternal exposure to novel male odor, and standard rearing were compared in NMRI mice. The first condition consisted of 15 min of daily exposure of pups to clean bedding (CB), and the second condition consisted of 15 min of mothers' exposure to the odor of strange males (SM), for 14 days after birth starting from postnatal Day 1. Thus, both conditions entailed the same period of maternal separation. A control mother-offspring group was left undisturbed (nonhandled, N-H). Corticosterone levels of mothers and pups were measured at the end of the last manipulation session. Corticosterone levels were higher in SM mothers, differing from both those of CB and of control dams; CB pups showed the highest corticosterone levels in comparison with the pups belonging to the other groups. Maternal behavior observed as furthest as possible from the daily separation session did not differ among the three groups. The behavioral response to 0.5 mg/kg of apomorphine in 15-day-old pups was enhanced in both CB and SM animals, which suggests an alteration of dopaminergic functioning. Finally, adult CB and SM male mice showed an increase in the percentage of time and entries into the open arms of the plus-maze in comparison to nonhandled males. This study indicates that exposure to ecologically relevant stimuli elicited a stress response in lactating dams. This "social stress " brings about short- and long-term effects in the offspring, even in the absence of any direct manipulation of the pups.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)230-237
Number of pages8
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2004


  • Corticosterone
  • Dopaminergic functioning
  • Emotionality
  • Mother's manipulation
  • Pup's manipulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental Biology
  • Embryology
  • Psychology(all)


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