Long-term effects of prenatal stress: Changes in adult cardiovascular regulation and sensitivity to stress

Francesca Mastorci, Massimo Vicentini, Odile Viltart, Massimo Manghi, Gallia Graiani, Federico Quaini, Peter Meerlo, Eugene Nalivaiko, Stefania Maccari, Andrea Sgoifo*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

72 Citations (Scopus)


Prenatal environment exerts profound influences on the development of an organism and stressful events during pregnancy can bring about long-term physiological/behavioral alterations in the offspring. Epidemiological evidence points to a relationship between intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR), body weight at birth, and adult cardiovascular disease. Experimental research employed different models of IUGR, including altered maternal nutrition, exposure to elevated glucocorticoids, and reduced placental perfusion, all of which can program, when acting during sensitive temporal windows of foetal life, alterations in cardiovascular regulation and stress sensitivity. Original data are presented indicating that prenatal psychological stress (intermittent restraint) does not induce in the rat adult offspring changes of plasma corticosterone levels, cardiac autonomic modulation, and circadian rhythmicity of heart rate (HR), body temperature (T) and physical activity (Act) at rest. However, prenatally stressed rats - when further stimulated in adulthood - exhibit prolonged adrenocortical stress responsivity, disturbed circadian rhythmicity of HR, T, and Act, and increased adrenal weight. This evidence supports the idea that prenatal stress per se does not change dramatically a given structure or function, but it affects resilience and renders the animal more susceptible to pathophysiological outcomes when further insults occur during adulthood. (C) 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)191-203
JournalNeuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2009
EventInternational Conference on Inevitable Link between Heart and Behavior - New Insights from Biomedical Research and Implications for Clinical Practice - , Italy
Duration: 2-Sep-200727-Oct-2007


  • stress
  • neonatal stress
  • prenatal stress
  • maternal stress
  • early life events
  • development
  • hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical axis
  • HPA axis
  • glucocorticoids
  • autonomic nervous system
  • autonomic control
  • catecholamines
  • sympathetic nervous system
  • parasympathetic nervous system
  • cardiovascular system
  • heart rate
  • heart rate variability
  • blood pressure
  • hypertension
  • coronary heart disease
  • myocardial fibrosis
  • renin-angiotensin system
  • circadian rhythms
  • daily rhythms
  • radiotelemetry
  • social defeat stress

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