Sex differences in hippocampal structural plasticity and glycosaminoglycan disaccharide levels after neonatal handling

Joel G. Hashimoto, Mo L. Singer, Calla M. Goeke, Fuming Zhang, Yuefan Song, Ke Xia, Robert J. Linhardt, Marina Guizzetti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In this study we investigated the effects of a neonatal handling protocol that mimics the handling of sham control pups in protocols of neonatal exposure to brain insults on dendritic arborization and glycosaminoglycan (GAG) levels in the developing brain. GAGs are long, unbranched polysaccharides, consisting of repeating disaccharide units that can be modified by sulfation at specific sites and are involved in modulating neuronal plasticity during brain development. In this study, male and female Sprague-Dawley rats underwent neonatal handling daily between post-natal day (PD)4 and PD9, with brains analyzed on PD9. Neuronal morphology and morphometric analysis of the apical and basal dendritic trees of CA1 hippocampal pyramidal neurons were carried out by Golgi-Cox staining followed by neuron tracing and analysis with the software Neurolucida. Chondroitin sulfate (CS)-, Hyaluronic Acid (HA)-, and Heparan Sulfate (HS)-GAG disaccharide levels were quantified in the hippocampus by Liquid Chromatography/Mass Spectrometry analyses. We found sex by neonatal handling interactions on several parameters of CA1 pyramidal neuron morphology and in the levels of HS-GAGs, with females, but not males, showing an increase in both dendritic arborization and HS-GAG levels. We also observed increased expression of glucocorticoid receptor gene Nr3c1 in the hippocampus of both males and females following neonatal handling suggesting that both sexes experienced a similar stress during the handling procedure. This is the first study to show sex differences in two parameters of brain plasticity, CA1 neuron morphology and HS-GAG levels, following handling stress in neonatal rats.

Original languageEnglish
Article number114313
JournalExperimental Neurology
StatePublished - Mar 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • Dendritic arborization
  • Glycosaminoglycans (GAGs)
  • Neonatal handling
  • Sex differences


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