Differential effects of neonatal handling on early life infection-induced alterations in cognition in adulthood.
We have previously demonstrated that bacterial infection (Escherichia coli) in neonatal rats is associated with impaired memory in a fear-conditioning task in adulthood. This impairment, however, is only observed if a peripheral immune challenge (lipopolysaccharide; LPS) is administered around the time of learning. We used a brief separation/handling paradigm to determine if the adult memory impairment associated with neonatal-infection could be prevented. Naturally occurring variations in maternal care promote striking variations in offspring cognitive development, and handling paradigms are used to manipulate the quality and quantity of maternal care. Rats were injected on post natal (P) day 4 with E. coli or PBS, and half from each group were handled for 15 min/day from P4 to 20. All rats were then tested in adulthood. Neonatal handling of rats infected as neonates prevented the increase in microglial cell marker reactivity within the hippocampus, and the exaggerated brain IL-1beta production to LPS normally produced by the infection. Thus, these neural processes were now comparable to levels of non-infected PBS controls. Furthermore, handling completely prevented LPS-induced memory impairment in a context-fear task in adult rats infected as neonates. Finally, neonatal handling dramatically improved spatial learning and memory and decreased anxiety in rats treated early with PBS, but had no beneficial effect on these measures in rats infected as neonates. Taken together, these data suggest that maternal care may profoundly influence neuroinflammatory processes in adulthood, and that infection may also prevent maternal care influences on cognition later in life.
Bilbo, SD; Newsum, NJ; Sprunger, DB; Watkins, LR; Rudy, JW; Maier, SF
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