In the present study we report the finding that the quality of maternal care, in early life, increased the susceptibility to stress exposure in adulthood, when rats were exposed to the chronic mild stress paradigm. Our results indicate that high, as opposed to low maternal care, predisposed rats to a differential stress-coping ability. Thus rats fostered by low maternal care dams became more prone to adopt a stress-susceptible phenotype developing an anhedonic-like condition. Moreover, low maternal care offspring had lower weight gain and lower locomotion, with no additive effect of stress. Subchronic exposure to chronic mild stress induced an increase in faecal corticosterone metabolites, which was only significant in rats from low maternal care dams. Examination of glucocorticoid receptor exon 17 promoter methylation in unchallenged adult, maternally characterized rats, showed an insignificant tendency towards higher total cytosine methylation in rats from low maternal care dams. Assessment of methylation in the resilient versus anhedonic-like rat phenotypes, revealed only minor differences. Thus, maternal care status seems to be a strong predictor or trait marker for the behavioural phenotype.
Behavioural Pharmacology, 2012, Vol 23, Issue 8, p. 735-43