Early and Later Life Stress Alter Brain Activity and Sleep in Rats
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Exposure to early life stress may profoundly influence the developing brain in lasting ways. Neuropsychiatric disorders associated with early life adversity may involve neural changes reflected in EEG power as a measure of brain activity and disturbed sleep. The main aim of the present study was for the first time to characterize possible changes in adult EEG power after postnatal maternal separation in rats. Furthermore, in the same animals, we investigated how EEG power and sleep architecture were affected after exposure to a chronic mild stress protocol. During postnatal day 2–14 male rats were exposed to either long maternal separation (180 min) or brief maternal separation (10 min). Long maternally separated offspring showed a sleep-wake nonspecific reduction in adult EEG power at the frontal EEG derivation compared to the brief maternally separated group. The quality of slow wave sleep differed as the long maternally separated group showed lower delta power in the frontal-frontal EEG and a slower reduction of the sleep pressure. Exposure to chronic mild stress led to a lower EEG power in both groups. Chronic exposure to mild stressors affected sleep differently in the two groups of maternal separation. Long maternally separated offspring showed more total sleep time, more episodes of rapid eye movement sleep and higher percentage of non-rapid eye movement episodes ending in rapid eye movement sleep compared to brief maternal separation. Chronic stress affected similarly other sleep parameters and flattened the sleep homeostasis curves in all offspring. The results confirm that early environmental conditions modulate the brain functioning in a long-lasting way.