Frontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology (Jun 2021)

Exposure to Prenatal Stress Is Associated With an Excitatory/Inhibitory Imbalance in Rat Prefrontal Cortex and Amygdala and an Increased Risk for Emotional Dysregulation

  • Francesca Marchisella,
  • Kerstin Camile Creutzberg,
  • Veronica Begni,
  • Alice Sanson,
  • Luis Eduardo Wearick-Silva,
  • Saulo Gantes Tractenberg,
  • Rodrigo Orso,
  • Érika Kestering-Ferreira,
  • Rodrigo Grassi-Oliveira,
  • Rodrigo Grassi-Oliveira,
  • Marco Andrea Riva,
  • Marco Andrea Riva

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 9


Read online

Epidemiological studies have shown that environmental insults and maternal stress during pregnancy increase the risk of several psychiatric disorders in the offspring. Converging lines of evidence from humans, as well as from rodent models, suggest that prenatal stress (PNS) interferes with fetal development, ultimately determining changes in brain maturation and function that may lead to the onset of neuropsychiatric disorders. From a molecular standpoint, transcriptional alterations are thought to play a major role in this context and may contribute to the behavioral phenotype by shifting the expression of genes related to excitatory and inhibitory (E/I) transmission balance. Nevertheless, the exact neurophysiological mechanisms underlying the enhanced vulnerability to psychopathology following PNS exposure are not well understood. In the present study, we used a model of maternal stress in rats to investigate the distal effects of PNS on the expression of genes related to glutamatergic and GABAergic neurotransmissions. We inspected two critical brain regions involved in emotion regulation, namely, the prefrontal cortex (PFC) and the amygdala (AMY), which we show to relate with the mild behavioral effects detected in adult rat offspring. We observed that PNS exposure promotes E/I imbalance in the PFC of adult males only, by dysregulating the expression of glutamatergic-related genes. Moreover, such an effect is accompanied by increased expression of the activity-dependent synaptic modulator gene Npas4 specifically in the PFC parvalbumin (PV)-positive interneurons, suggesting an altered regulation of synapse formation promoting higher PV-dependent inhibitory transmission and increased overall circuit inhibition in the PFC of males. In the AMY, PNS more evidently affects the transcription of GABAergic-related genes, shifting the balance toward inhibition. Collectively, our findings suggest that the E/I dysregulation of the PFC-to-AMY transmission may be a long-term signature of PNS and may contribute to increase the risk for mood disorder upon further stress.