Spatial learning impairment induced by chronic stress is related to individual differences in novelty reactivity: search for neurobiological correlates

Although chronic stress has been reported to induce deleterious effects on hippocampal structure and function, the possible existence of individual differences in the vulnerability to develop stress-induced cognitive alterations was hypothesized. This study was designed to evaluate (i) whether individual variability in behavioural reactivity to novelty could be related to a differential vulnerability to show spatial learning deficits after chronic stress in young adult rats, and (ii) to what extent, could individual differences in stress-induced cognitive alterations be related to alterations in specific neurobiological substrates. Four month-old Wistar male rats were classified according to their locomotor reactivity to a novel environment, as either low (LR) or highly (HR) reactive, and then either submitted to psychosocial stress for 21-days (consisting of the daily cohabitation of each young adult rat with a new middle-aged rat) or left undisturbed. The results showed that psychosocial stress induced a marked deficit in spatial learning in the water maze in HR, but not in LR, rats. Then, a second experiment investigated the possible differential expression of corticosteroid receptors (MR and GR) and cell adhesion molecules (NCAM and L1) in the hippocampus of HR and LR rats, both under basal conditions and after exposure to chronic social stress. Although chronic stress induced a reduction on the hippocampal expression of MRs and the NCAM-140 isoform, the levels of these molecules did not differ between stressed rats with and without spatial learning impairments; i.e., between HR- and LR-stressed rats, respectively. Nevertheless, it should be noted that the reduction of the hippocampal expression of NCAM-140 induced by psychosocial stress was particularly marked in HR stressed rats. However, the expression of GRs, NCAM-120 and NCAM-180 isoforms, and L1, was not affected by stress, regardless of the reactivity of the animals. Therefore, although we failed to find a neurobiological substrate that specifically correlated with the differential cognitive vulnerability to chronic stress shown by animals with a different novelty reactivity, this study confirms the hypothesis that rats differ in their susceptibility to display stress-induced impairments in hippocampus-dependent spatial learning tasks. In addition, it provides a model to further search for the neurobiological substrate(s) involved in the differential susceptibility to develop stress-induced cognitive impairments.

Published in:
Psychoneuroendocrinology, 29, 2, 290-305
Author address: Department of Psychobiology, Universidad Nacional de Educacion a Distancia, Ciudad Universitaria s/n, 28040 Madrid, Spain.

 Record created 2007-01-18, last modified 2018-03-17

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