Early life stress alters the developmental trajectory of corticolimbic endocannabinoid signaling in male rats

Matthew N. Hill, Lisa Eiland, Tiffany T.Y. Lee, Cecilia J. Hillard, Bruce S. McEwen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


Early-life stress modulates the development of cortico-limbic circuits and increases vulnerability to adult psychopathology. Given the important stress-buffering role of endocannabinoid (eCB) signaling, we performed a comprehensive investigation of the developmental trajectory of the eCB system and the impact of exposure to early life stress induced by repeated maternal separation (MS; 3 h/day) from postnatal day 2 (PND2) to PND12. Tissue levels of the eCB molecules anandamide (AEA) and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) were measured after MS exposures, as well under basal conditions at juvenile (PND14), adolescent (PND40) and adult (PND70) timepoints in the prefrontal cortex (PFC), amygdala and hippocampus. We also examined the effects of MS on CB1 receptor binding in these three brain regions at PND40 and PND70. AEA content was found to increase from PND2 into adulthood in a linear manner across all brain regions, while 2-AG was found to exhibit a transient spike during the juvenile period (PND12-14) within the amygdala and PFC, but increased in a linear manner across development in the hippocampus. Exposure to MS resulted in bidirectional changes in AEA and 2-AG tissue levels within the amygdala and hippocampus and produced a sustained reduction in eCB function in the hippocampus at adulthood. CB1 receptor densities across all brain regions were generally found to be downregulated later in life following exposure to MS. Collectively, these data demonstrate that early life stress can alter the normative ontogeny of the eCB system, resulting in a sustained deficit in eCB function, particularly within the hippocampus, in adulthood.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)154-162
Number of pages9
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2019
Externally publishedYes


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