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Prenatal Stress as a Risk-and an Opportunity-Factor.

  • Author(s): Hartman, Sarah;
  • Freeman, Sara M;
  • Bales, Karen L;
  • Belsky, Jay
  • et al.

Two separate lines of research indicate (a) that prenatal stress is associated with heightened behavioral and physiological reactivity and (b) that these postnatal phenotypes are associated with increased susceptibility to both positive and negative developmental experiences. Therefore, prenatal stress may increase sensitivity to the rearing environment. We tested this hypothesis by manipulating prenatal stress and rearing-environment quality, using a cross-fostering paradigm, in prairie voles. Results showed that prenatally stressed voles, as adults, displayed the highest behavioral and physiological reactivity when cross-fostered to low-contact (i.e., low-quality) rearing but the lowest behavioral and physiological reactivity when cross-fostered to high-contact (i.e., high-quality) rearing; non-prenatally stressed voles showed no effect of rearing condition. Additionally, while neither prenatal stress nor rearing condition affected oxytocin receptor binding, prenatally stressed voles cross-fostered to high-contact rearing showed the highest vasopressin-1a receptor binding in the amygdala. Results indicate that prenatal stress induces greater environmental sensitivity, making it both a risk and an opportunity factor.

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