Adolescence is a critical period of development with increased sensitivity toward psychological stressors. Many psychiatric conditions emerge during adolescence and animal studies have shown that that acute stress has long-term effects on hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis function and behavior. We recently demonstrated that acute stress produces long-term electrophysiological changes in locus coeruleus and long-lasting anxiety-like behavior in adolescent male rats. Based on prior reports of increased stress sensitivity during adolescence and increased sensitivity of female locus coeruleus toward corticotropin releasing factor, we hypothesized that the same acute stressor would cause different behavioral and physiological responses in adolescent female and adult male and female rats one week after stressor exposure. In this study, we assessed age and sex differences in how an acute psychological stressor affects corticosterone release, anxiety-like behavior, and locus coeruleus physiology at short- and long-term intervals. All groups of animals except adult female responded to stress with elevated corticosterone levels at the acute time point. One week after stressor exposure, adolescent females showed decreased firing of locus coeruleus neurons upon current injection and increased exploratory behavior compared to controls. The results were in direct contrast to changes observed in adolescent males, which showed increased anxiety-like behavior and increased spontaneous and induced firing in locus coeruleus neurons a week after stressor exposure. Adult males and females were both behaviorally and electrophysiologically resilient to the long-term effects of acute stress. Therefore, there may be a normal developmental trajectory for locus coeruleus neurons which promotes stress resilience in adults, but stressor exposure during adolescence perturbs their function. Furthermore, while locus coeruleus neurons are more sensitive to stressor exposure during adolescence, the effect varies between adolescent males and females. These findings suggest that endocrine, behavioral, and physiological responses to stress vary among animals of different age and sex, and therefore these variables should be taken into account when selecting models and designing experiments to investigate the effects of stress. These differences in animals may also allude to age and sex differences in the prevalence of various psychiatric illnesses within the human population.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
- Cognitive Neuroscience
- Behavioral Neuroscience