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Hippocampal neurogenesis is not enhanced by lifelong reduction of glucocorticoid levels


Neurogenesis of dentate gyrus granule cells is generally considered to be negatively regulated by glucocorticoids. We tested the hypothesis that exposure to low plasma corticosteroid levels starting in the early postnatal period enhances granule cell proliferation rate during adulthood. Rat pups were adrenalectomized (ADX) on postnatal day 10 and were then "clamped" throughout life at low corticosterone levels via oral supplementation. Neurogenesis was determined using BrdU immunochemistry at 3 and 12 months in clamped rats as compared with age-matched, sham-operated controls. Rate of neurogenesis did not differ between the groups at either 3 or 12 months. It was significantly lower in 12-month-old compared with 3-month-old rats, despite the presence of an age-dependent increase of plasma corticosterone only in the sham-ADX rats. Granule cell layer volume, granule cell density, and granule cell degeneration (determined using apoptotic markers) were indistinguishable in the two groups, further supporting the comparable rate of neurogenesis under differing chronic glucocorticoid levels. In addition, whereas acute deprivation of plasma glucocorticoids (adrenalectomy) in adult rats evoked a burst of granule cell neurogenesis, complete elimination of these hormones (by stopping hormone supplementation) in adult, early-life ADX/clamped rats did not. These data do not support a simple inverse relationship between chronic plasma glucocorticoid levels and granule cell neurogenesis. Specifically, chronic modulation of glucocorticoid levels commencing early in life evokes additional, adaptive, and compensatory mechanisms that contribute to the regulation of granule cell proliferation.

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