The profound programming effects of early life stress (ELS) on brain and behavior are thought to be primarily mediated by adrenal glucocorticoids (GCs). However, in mice, stressors are often administered between postnatal days 2 and 12 (PND2-12), during the stress hyporesponsive period (SHRP), when adrenal GC production is greatly reduced at baseline and in response to stressors. During the SHRP, specific brain regions produce GCs at baseline, but it is unknown if brain GC production increases in response to stressors. We treated mice at PND1 (pre-SHRP), PND5 (SHRP), PND9 (SHRP), and PND13 (post-SHRP) with an acute stressor (isoflurane anesthesia), vehicle control (oxygen), or neither (baseline). We measured a panel of progesterone and six GCs in the blood, hippocampus, cerebral cortex, and hypothalamus via liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry. At PND1, baseline corticosterone levels were high and did not increase in response to stress. At PND5, baseline corticosterone levels were very low, increases in brain corticosterone levels were greater than the increase in blood corticosterone levels, and stress had region-specific effects. At PND9, baseline corticosterone levels were low and increased similarly and moderately in response to stress. At PND13, blood corticosterone levels were higher than those at PND9, and corticosterone levels were higher in blood than in brain regions. These data illustrate the rapid and profound changes in stress physiology during neonatal development and suggest that neurosteroid production is a possible mechanism by which ELS has enduring effects on brain and behavior.

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Hamden, Gray, Salehzadeh, & Soma.
The Journal of Endocrinology September 2022