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Jordan E Hamden, Melody Salehzadeh, Katherine M Gray, Brandon J Forys, and Kiran K Soma

Glucocorticoids (GCs) are secreted by the adrenal glands and locally produced by lymphoid organs. Adrenal GC secretion at baseline and in response to stressors is greatly reduced during the stress hyporesponsive period (SHRP) in neonatal mice (postnatal day (PND) 2–12). It is unknown whether lymphoid GC production increases in response to stressors during the SHRP. Here, we administered an acute stressor (isoflurane anesthesia) to mice before, during, and after the SHRP and measured systemic and local GCs via mass spectrometry. We administered isoflurane, vehicle control (oxygen), or neither (baseline) at PND 1, 5, 9, or 13 and measured progesterone and six GCs in blood, bone marrow, thymus, and spleen. At PND1, blood and lymphoid GC levels were high and did not respond to stress. At PND5, blood GC levels were very low and increased slightly after stress, while lymphoid GC levels were also low but increased greatly after stress. At PND9, blood and lymphoid GC levels were similar at baseline and increased similarly after stress. At PND13, blood GC levels were higher than lymphoid GC levels at baseline, and blood GC levels showed a greater response to stress. These data demonstrate the remarkable plasticity of GC physiology during the postnatal period, show that local steroid levels do not reflect systemic steroid levels, provide insight into the SHRP, and identify a potential mechanism by which early-life stressors can alter immunity in adulthood.

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Daniel J Tobiansky, George V Kachkovski, Reilly T Enos, Kim L Schmidt, E Angela Murphy, and Kiran K Soma

Sucrose consumption is associated with type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cognitive deficits. Sucrose intake during pregnancy might have particularly prominent effects on metabolic, endocrine, and neural physiology. It remains unclear how consumption of sucrose affects parous females, especially in brain circuits that mediate food consumption and reward processing. Here, we examine whether a human-relevant level of sucrose before, during, and after pregnancy (17–18 weeks total) influences metabolic and neuroendocrine physiology in female rats. Females were fed either a control diet or a macronutrient-matched, isocaloric sucrose diet (25% of kcal from sucrose). Metabolically, sucrose impairs glucose tolerance, increases liver lipids, and increases a marker of adipose inflammation, but has no effect on body weight or overall visceral adiposity. Sucrose also decreases corticosterone levels in serum but not in the brain. Sucrose increases progesterone levels in serum and in the brain and increases the brain:serum ratio of progesterone in the mesocorticolimbic system and hypothalamus. These data suggest a dysregulation of systemic and local steroid signalling. Moreover, sucrose decreases tyrosine hydroxylase (TH), a catecholamine-synthetic enzyme, in the medial prefrontal cortex. Finally, sucrose consumption alters the expression pattern of FOSB, a marker of phasic dopamine signalling, in the nucleus accumbens. Overall, chronic consumption of sucrose at a human-relevant level alters metabolism, steroid levels, and brain dopamine signalling in a female rat model.

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Jordan E Hamden, Katherine M Gray, Melody Salehzadeh, and Kiran K Soma

The profound programming effects of early life stress (ELS) on brain and behavior are thought to be primarily mediated by adrenal glucocorticoids (GCs). However, in mice, stressors are often administered between postnatal days 2 and 12 (PND2–12), during the stress hyporesponsive period (SHRP), when adrenal GC production is greatly reduced at baseline and in response to stressors. During the SHRP, specific brain regions produce GCs at baseline, but it is unknown if brain GC production increases in response to stressors. We treated mice at PND1 (pre-SHRP), PND5 (SHRP), PND9 (SHRP), and PND13 (post-SHRP) with an acute stressor (isoflurane anesthesia), vehicle control (oxygen), or neither (baseline). We measured a panel of progesterone and six GCs in the blood, hippocampus, cerebral cortex, and hypothalamus via liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry. At PND1, baseline corticosterone levels were high and did not increase in response to stress. At PND5, baseline corticosterone levels were very low, increases in brain corticosterone levels were greater than the increase in blood corticosterone levels, and stress had region-specific effects. At PND9, baseline corticosterone levels were low and increased similarly and moderately in response to stress. At PND13, blood corticosterone levels were higher than those at PND9, and corticosterone levels were higher in blood than in brain regions. These data illustrate the rapid and profound changes in stress physiology during neonatal development and suggest that neurosteroid production is a possible mechanism by which ELS has enduring effects on brain and behavior.

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Daniel J Tobiansky, George V Kachkovski, Reilly T Enos, Kim L Schmidt, E Angela Murphy, Stan B Floresco, and Kiran K Soma

Maternal diets can have dramatic effects on the physiology, metabolism, and behaviour of offspring that persist into adulthood. However, the effects of maternal sucrose consumption on offspring remain unclear. Here, female rats were fed either a sucrose diet with a human-relevant level of sucrose (25% of kcal) or a macronutrient-matched, isocaloric control diet before, during, and after pregnancy. After weaning, all offspring were fed a standard low-sucrose rodent chow. We measured indicators of metabolism (weight, adipose, glucose tolerance, and liver lipids) during development and adulthood (16–24 weeks). We also measured food preference and motivation for sugar rewards in adulthood. Finally, in brain regions regulating these behaviours, we measured steroids and transcripts for steroidogenic enzymes, steroid receptors, and dopamine receptors. In male offspring, maternal sucrose intake decreased body mass and visceral adipose tissue, increased preference for high-sucrose and high-fat diets, increased motivation for sugar rewards, and decreased mRNA levels of Cyp17a1 (an androgenic enzyme) in the nucleus accumbens. In female offspring, maternal sucrose intake increased basal corticosterone levels. These data demonstrate the enduring, diverse, and sex-specific effects of maternal sucrose consumption on offspring phenotype.