Sexual and social development is affected by a complex interplay between genetic makeup and the early-life rearing environment. While many rodent studies focused primarily on the detrimental effects of early-life stress, human literature suggests that genetic susceptibility may not be restricted to negative environments; it may also enhance the beneficial effects of positive rearing conditions. To examine this interaction in a controlled setting, heterozygous mineralocorticoid receptor knockout (MR+/-) mice and control litter mates were exposed to a limited nesting/bedding (LN, impoverished), standard nesting (SN, control) or communal nesting (CN, enriched) paradigm from postnatal day 2-9 (P2-P9). Offspring was monitored for puberty onset between P24-P36 and, in females, maternal care-giving (i.e. as F1) during adulthood, after which basal corticosterone was measured. Different home-cage environments resulted in profound differences in received maternal care and offspring body weight. In male offspring, LN resulted in delayed puberty onset that was mediated by body weight and unpredictability of maternal care received during early development. In female offspring, rearing condition did not significantly alter sexual maturation and had little effect on their own maternal care-giving behavior. Genotype did affect maternal care: female MR+/- offspring exhibited a less active nursing style and upregulated fragmentation during adulthood, irrespective of early life conditions. Basal corticosterone levels were highest in MR+/- mice with a background of LN. Overall, we found a gene-by-environment interaction with respect to basal corticosterone levels, but not for sexual maturation or maternal behavior.
- EARLY-LIFE ADVERSITY