OBJECTIVES: Different inbred mouse strains but also each animal of the same strain show an individually different stress response which is influenced by genetic and environmental factors such as early life experiences. In this study, we investigated consequences of mild postnatal stress exposure on the stress coping style of adult BALB/c mice.
METHODS: We used a model of mild early life stress where neonatal mice were repeatedly separated from the dam staying with their siblings for 1-h each day during the first two postnatal weeks. The environment during maternal separation was adapted to the nest (bedding, 37 degrees C warm).
RESULTS: Adult female BALB/s mice that underwent the maternal separation protocol or were not isolated from the dam in early life were exposed to combined acoustic and restraint stress in adulthood. Repeated maternal separation which was performed under ambient conditions increased the stress coping ability of mice at the age of 12 weeks when exposed to this psychological stressors. By acoustic and restraint stress-induced alterations such as high corticosterone levels, an anti-inflammatory immune conditioning with an ex vivo hyperinducibility of interleukin-10 of splenocytes and a massive loss of body weight were significantly reduced in the maternally separated group compared with conventionally bred control mice.
CONCLUSIONS: Mild maternal separation in early life modifies the stress coping style of adult female BALB/c mice to a more stress-resistant phenotype which shows reduced repeated stress-induced immune suppression and weight loss and is linked to reduced release of glucocorticoids after stress exposure.