© 2018 Fuentes et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. Early life stress (ELS) induces long-term effects in later functioning and interacts with further exposure to other stressors in adulthood to shape our responsiveness to reward-related cues. The attribution of incentive salience to food-related cues may be modulated by previous and current exposures to stressors in a sex-dependent manner. We hypothesized from human data that exposure to a traumatic (severe) adult stressor will decrease the attribution of incentive salience to reward-associated cues, especially in females, because these effects are modulated by previous ELS. To study these factors in Long-Evans rats, we used as an ELS model of restriction of nesting material and concurrently evaluated maternal care. In adulthood, the offspring of both sexes were exposed to acute immobilization (IMO), and several days after, a Pavlovian conditioning procedure was used to assess the incentive salience of food-related cues. Some rats developed more attraction to the cue predictive of reward (sign-tracking) and others were attracted to the location of the reward itself, the food-magazine (goal-tracking). Several dopaminergic markers were evaluated by in situ hybridization. The results showed that ELS increased maternal care and decreased body weight gain (only in females). Regarding incentive salience, in absolute control animals, females presented slightly greater sign-tracking behavior than males. Non-ELS male rats exposed to IMO showed a bias towards goal-tracking, whereas in females, IMO produced a bias towards sign-tracking. Animals of both sexes not exposed to IMO displayed an intermediate phenotype. ELS in IMO-treated females was able to reduce sign-tracking and decrease tyrosine hydroxylase expression in the ventral tegmental area and dopamine D1 receptor expression in the accumbens shell. Although the predicted greater decrease in females in sign-tracking after IMO exposure was not corroborated by the data, the results highlight the idea that sex is an important factor in the study of the long-term impact of early and adult stressors.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0190044
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2018


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