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Open Access Research

Caveats of chronic exogenous corticosterone treatments in adolescent rats and effects on anxiety-like and depressive behavior and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis function

Patti Waters and Cheryl M McCormick*

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Department of Psychology and Centre for Neuroscience, Brock University, St Catharines, Ontario, Canada

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Citation and License

Biology of Mood & Anxiety Disorders 2011, 1:4  doi:10.1186/2045-5380-1-4

Published: 27 September 2011

Abstract

Background

Administration of exogenous corticosterone is an effective preclinical model of depression, but its use has involved primarily adult rodents. Using two different procedures of administration drawn from the literature, we explored the possibility of exogenous corticosterone models in adolescence, a time of heightened risk for mood disorders in humans.

Methods

In experiment 1, rats were injected with 40 mg/kg corticosterone or vehicle from postnatal days 30 to 45 and compared with no injection controls on behavior in the elevated plus maze (EPM) and the forced swim test (FST). Experiment 2 consisted of three treatments administered to rats from postnatal days 30 to 45 or as adults (days 70 to 85): either corticosterone (400 μg/ml) administered in the drinking water along with 2.5% ethanol, 2.5% ethanol or water only. In addition to testing on EPM, blood samples after the FST were obtained to measure plasma corticosterone. Analysis of variance (ANOVA) and alpha level of P < 0.05 were used to determine statistical significance.

Results

In experiment 1, corticosterone treatment of adolescent rats increased anxiety in the EPM and decreased immobility in the FST compared to no injection control rats. However, vehicle injected rats were similar to corticosterone injected rats, suggesting that adolescent rats may be highly vulnerable to stress of injection. In experiment 2, the intake of treated water, and thus doses delivered, differed for adolescents and adults, but there were no effects of treatment on behavior in the EPM or FST. Rats that had ingested corticosterone had reduced corticosterone release after the FST. Ethanol vehicle also affected corticosterone release compared to those ingesting water only, but differently for adolescents than for adults.

Conclusions

The results indicate that several challenges must be overcome before the exogenous corticosterone model can be used effectively in adolescents.