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Selected Publication:

Type of publication: PhD Thesis
Type of document:

Year: 2012

Authors: Schöpper, Hanna Franziska

Title: The effects of early life stress on later reproductive and challenge performance in guinea pigs (Cavia aperea f. porcellus).

Source: PhD-Arbeit, Vet. Med. Univ. Wien, pp. 85.

Authors Vetmeduni Vienna:

Schöpper Hanna

Huber Susanne
Palme Rupert

Bonnet Xavier

Vetmed Research Units:
Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology

Environmental conditions during pregnancy can influence the offspring’s phenotype in addition to the genetic background of the parents. Even though modulations are believed to be adaptive, also detrimental outcomes like increased risk of disease are observed in the long-run. Stress might be seen as a general state of experiencing harsh environmental conditions that apply to humans and animals similarly and might have great impact especially during early pregnancy. The aim of this study was to investigate the impact of repeated strobe light exposure during early to mid gestation in guinea pigs and its effects on the offspring, concerning the development of the stress and reproductive axes. Female guinea pigs assigned to the treatment group were exposed to strobe light in an unfamiliar dark room once per week beginning one week prior to expected conception until day 42 of gestation (gestation length 68 days). The control group was left completely undisturbed except for maintenance purposes. Stress hormones were measured throughout the gestation and lactation period as well as body condition and reproductive performance were evaluated. Offspring from treatment mothers were considered prenatally stressed (PS), while offspring from control mothers were also considered control. Starting from day 12 of life and continuing until day 124, offspring was examined for basal concentrations of stress and reproductive hormones. Furthermore, challenge tests were performed to investigate reactivity of stress axis. For evaluation of reproductive function animals were allowed to mate and both mating and subsequent maternal behavior were recorded. Second generation offspring was observed for transgenerational effects on body weight and levels of stress hormones. The strobe light exposure was perceived as chronic stress by the gestating guinea pigs and had profound effects on their physiology. While body weight gain and fecal cortisol metabolites (FCM) were attenuated, reproductive output remained unaffected. Stress during pregnancy might impose a predicament that enforces a life-history decision – and under the given conditions pregnant guinea pigs invested in reproduction by the cost of own maintenance. In the offspring, experience of prenatal stress resulted in reduced levels of glucocorticoids during the pre-pubertal phase and shifted to higher levels after puberty. Furthermore, glucocorticoids were lower during stress exposure, with PS animals showing slightly earlier competence to react adequately to the challenge. Concerning reproductive maturation distinct sex differences could be observed. PS males only showed slight impairment of mating behavior and remained otherwise largely unaffected. PS females however grew faster and reached puberty earlier compared to control females. In conclusion, prenatal stress treatment resulted in alterations in offspring physiology that suggest an adaption to the predicted stressful environment. The prevention of exceeding levels of stress hormones, the improved ability to react adequately to a stressor and the earlier reproductive competence in females are believed to improve chance of survival and reproductive fitness under harsh conditions. Puberty might be viewed as a sensitive time window to readjust physiology in case of mismatch between prenatal prediction and current postnatal situation. Differences between experimental groups were even seen in second generation offspring with males being especially affected. Transgenerational programming is believed to be the underlying concept of observed effects while the mechanisms responsible for this transmission need to be investigated further. In summary, this thesis suggests that stress during pregnancy impairs maternal physiology, while offspring seems to benefit from correct maternal predictions and can even transfer this information to the next generation.

Publication(s) resulting from University thesis:

Schöpper, H; Klaus, T; Palme, R; Ruf, T; Huber, S (2012): Sex-specific impact of prenatal stress on growth and reproductive parameters of guinea pigs. J Comp Physiol B. 2012; 182(8):1117-1127

Schöpper, H; Palme, R; Ruf, T; Huber, S (2012): Effects of prenatal stress on hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis function over two generations of guinea pigs (Cavia aperea f. porcellus). Gen Comp Endocrinol. 2012; 176(1):18-27

Schöpper, H; Palme, R; Ruf, T; Huber, S (2011): Chronic stress in pregnant guinea pigs (Cavia aperea f. porcellus) attenuates long-term stress hormone levels and body weight gain, but not reproductive output. J Comp Physiol B. 2011; 181(8):1089-1100

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