Maternal separation induces anhedonia in female heterozygous serotonin transporter knockout rats

D. J. Houwing, A. S. Ramsteijn, I. W. Riemersma, J. D.A. Olivier*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


The serotonin transporter (SERT) gene has been linked to depression, especially the short allele of the serotonin transporter linked polymorphic region (5-HTTLPR). When short allele carriers are exposed to stressful life events, their risk for developing depression is increased. The neurochemical properties of the short allele of the 5-HTTLPR in humans can be mimicked in heterozygous serotonin transporter knockout (SERT +/− ) rats. These animals have a similar reduction in SERT expression as humans with a 5-HTTLPR short allele. Several stress protocols have been used in SERT +/− animals but behavioural outcomes were mixed. Many studies used males to examine the behavioural effects of stress in SERT +/− rats, ignoring possible effects in females. However, women are depressed twice as often compared to men, therefore it is of great importance to study the effects of stress in females as well. Because early postnatal adversity can contribute to the psychopathology of depression, especially in vulnerable individuals, our aim was to investigate the effects of early-life stress in female SERT +/- rats and determine whether female SERT +/− rats could model the human short allele 5HTTLPR carriers. To this end, SERT +/− rats were maternally separated for six hours a day from postnatal day 2-15. Control rats were handled for 15 min from PND2-15 to control for litter disturbances. In adulthood, female rats were assessed for affective, social and coping behaviour. In addition, nerve growth factor (NGF) gene expression in the basolateral amygdala (BLA) and paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus (PVN) and basal plasma corticosterone levels were measured. Results show that maternal separation lowered sucrose preference in female SERT +/− rats compared to control SERT +/− rats, reflecting anhedonic behaviour. In addition, compared to control SERT +/− rats, maternal separation significantly lowered NGF gene expression in SERT +/− rats in both BLA and PVN, but did not affect plasma corticosterone levels. Together, these results show that early-life stress in female SERT +/− rats leads to depression-like behaviour and related plasticity impairments in the BLA and PVN.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)204-207
Number of pages4
JournalBehavioural Brain Research
Early online date31 Aug 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding was received from the NARSAD young investigator grant from the Brain & Behavioural Research foundation (grant nr 25206 ) and from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant agreement No 660152 .

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 The Authors

Copyright 2019 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Anhedonia
  • Corticosterone
  • Maternal separation
  • Nerve growth factor
  • Serotonin transporter


Dive into the research topics of 'Maternal separation induces anhedonia in female heterozygous serotonin transporter knockout rats'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this