Peripubertal stress-induced behavioral changes are associated with altered expression of genes involved in excitation and inhibition in the amygdala
Early-life stress is a critical risk factor for developing psychopathological alterations later in life. This early adverse environment has been modeled in rats by exposure to stress during the peripubertal period-that is, corresponding to childhood and puberty-and has been shown to lead to increased emotionality, decreased sociability and pathological aggression. The amygdala, particularly its central nucleus (CeA), is hyperactivated in this model, consistent with evidence implicating this nucleus in the regulation of social and aggressive behaviors. Here, we investigated potential changes in the gene expression of molecular markers of excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmission in the CeA. We found that peripubertal stress led to an increase in the expression of mRNA encoding NR1 (the obligatory subunit of the N-methyl D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor) but to a reduction in the level of mRNA encoding glutamic acid decarboxylase 67 (GAD67), an enzyme that is critically involved in the activity-dependent synthesis of GABA, and to an increase in the vesicular glutamate transporter 1 (VGLUT1)/vesicular GABA transporter (VGAT) ratio in the CeA. These molecular alterations were present in addition to increased novelty reactivity, sociability deficits and increased aggression. Our results also showed that the full extent of the peripubertal protocol was required for the observed behavioral and neurobiological effects because exposure during only the childhood/prepubertal period (Juvenile Stress) or the male pubertal period (Puberty Stress) was insufficient to elicit the same effects. These findings highlight peripuberty as a period in which stress can lead to long-term programming of the genes involved in excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmission in the CeA.