Transgenerational transmission of anxiety induced by neonatal exposure to lipopolysaccharide: Implications for male and female germ lines

Adam K. Walker, Guy Hawkins, Luba Sominsky, Deborah M. Hodgson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

35 Citations (Scopus)


Neonatal lipopolysaccharide (LPS) exposure increases anxiety-like behaviour and alters neuroendocrine responses to stress in adult rats. The current study assessed whether this anxiety-related phenotype observed in rats neonatally exposed to LPS is transferable to subsequent generations. Wistar rats were exposed to LPS (0.05. mg/kg, Salmonella enteritidis) or non-pyrogenic saline (equivolume) on postnatal days 3 and 5. In adulthood, animals were subjected to restraint and isolation stress or no stress, and subsequently evaluated for anxiety-like behaviours on the elevated plus maze, acoustic startle response, and holeboard apparatus. Blood was collected to examine corticosterone responses to stress and behavioural testing in adulthood. Animals from both treatment groups which exhibited the anxiety-like phenotype were bred with untreated partners. Maternal care of the second generation (F2) was monitored over the first week of life. In adulthood, the F2 generation underwent identical testing procedures as the parental (F1) generation. The F2 offspring of females exposed to LPS as neonates exhibited an anxiety-like phenotype in adulthood and a potentiated corticosterone response to stress (p< .05). F2 offspring of males exposed to LPS as neonates also exhibited an anxiety-like phenotype (p< .05), however, no differences in corticosterone responses were observed. To determine the impact of maternal care on the anxiety-like phenotype, a cross-fostering study was conducted in which offspring of LPS-treated females were fostered to saline-treated mothers and vice versa, which was found to reverse the behavioural and endocrine phenotypes of the F2 generation. These data indicate that a neonatally bacterially induced anxiety phenotype is transferable across generations in both sexes. Maternal care is the mediating mechanism along the maternal line. We suggest that transmission may be dependent upon heritable epigenetic phenomena for the paternal line. The implications of this study apply to potential neuroimmune pathways through which psychopathology may be transmitted along filial lines. 

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1320-1335
Number of pages16
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Anxiety
  • HPA axis
  • LPS
  • Maternal care
  • Perinatal programming
  • Transgenerational transmission

Cite this