Maternal separation exaggerates the toxic effects of 6-hydroxydopamine in rats: Implications for neurodegenerative disorders

I. S. Pienaar, L. A. Kellaway, V. A. Russell, A. D. Smith, D. J. Stein, M. J. Zigmond, W. M.U. Daniels

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Many studies have shown that early life stress may lead to impaired brain development, and may be a risk factor for developing psychiatric pathologies such as depression. However, few studies have investigated the impact that early life stress might have on the onset and development of neurodegenerative disorders, such as Parkinson's disease, which is characterized in part by the degeneration of dopaminergic neurons in the nigrostriatal pathway. The present study subjected rat pups to a maternal separation paradigm that has been shown to model adverse early life events, and investigated the effects that it has on motor deficits induced by a unilateral, intrastriatal injection of 6-hydroxydopamine (12 μg/4 μl). The female rats were assessed for behavioral changes at 28 days post-lesion with a battery of tests that are sensitive to the degree of dopamine loss. The results showed that rats that had been subjected to maternal separation display significantly impaired performance in the vibrissae and single-limb akinesia test when compared to normally reared animals. In addition, there was a significant increase in the loss of tyrosine hydroxylase staining in maternally separated rats. Our results therefore suggest that adverse experiences sustained during early life contribute to making dopamine neurons more susceptible to subsequent insults occurring during more mature stages of life and may therefore play a role in the etiopathogenesis of Parkinson's disease.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)448-456
Number of pages9
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Developmental stress
  • Locomotor deficits
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Tyrosine hydroxylase


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