Prenatal stress produces anxiety prone female offspring and impaired maternal behaviour in the domestic pig

KMD Rutherford, A Piastowska-Ciesielska, RD Donald, SK Robson, SH Ison, S Jarvis, PJ Brunton, JA Russell, AB Lawrence

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Numerous studies have shown that prenatal stress (PNS) can have profound effects on postnatal well-being. Here, the domestic pig (Sus scrofa) was used to investigate PNS effects owing to the direct relevance for farm animal welfare and the developing status of the pig as a large animal model in translational research. Pregnant primiparous sows were exposed, in mid-gestation, to either a social stressor (mixing with unfamiliar conspecifics) or were kept in stable social groups. The ratio of levels of mRNAs for corticotropin releasing hormone (CRH) receptors 1 and 2 in the amygdala, measured for the first time in the pig, was substantially increased in 10-week-old female, but not male, PNS progeny indicating a neurobiological propensity for anxiety-related behaviour. Mature female offspring were observed at parturition in either a behaviourally restrictive crate or open pen. Such PNS sows showed abnormal maternal behaviour in either environment, following the birth of their first piglet. They spent more time lying ventrally, more time standing and showed a higher frequency of posture changes. They were also more reactive towards their piglets, and spent longer visually attending to their piglets compared to controls. Associated with this abnormal maternal care, piglet mortality was increased in the open pen environment, where protection for piglets is reduced. Overall, these data indicate that PNS females have their brain development shifted towards a pro-anxiety phenotype and that PNS can be causally related to subsequent impaired maternal behaviour in adult female offspring.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)255 - 265
Number of pages11
JournalPhysiology and Behavior
Early online date11 Mar 2014
Publication statusPrint publication - 22 Apr 2014

Bibliographical note



  • Amygdala
  • CRH receptors
  • Domestic pig
  • Maternal behaviour
  • Prenatal stress


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