Gestational poly(I:C) attenuates, not exacerbates, the behavioral, cytokine and mTOR changes caused by isolation rearing in a rat ‘dual-hit’ model for neurodevelopmental disorders

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

  • External authors:
  • Jen-Yin Goh
  • Saoirse E. O'Sullivan
  • Sinead E. Shortall
  • Nicole Zordan
  • Anna M. Piccinini
  • Kevin C.F. Fone
  • Madeleine V. King


Many psychiatric illnesses have a multifactorial etiology involving genetic and environmental risk factors that trigger persistent neurodevelopmental impairments. Several risk factors have been individually replicated in rodents, to understand disease mechanisms and evaluate novel treatments, particularly for poorly-managed negative and cognitive symptoms. However, the complex interplay between various factors remains unclear. Rodent dual-hit neurodevelopmental models offer vital opportunities to examine this and explore new strategies for early therapeutic intervention. This study combined gestational administration of polyinosinic:polycytidylic acid (poly(I:C); PIC, to mimic viral infection during pregnancy) with post-weaning isolation of resulting offspring (to mirror adolescent social adversity). After in vitro and in vivo studies required for laboratory-specific PIC characterization and optimization, we administered 10 mg/kg i.p. PIC potassium salt to time-mated Lister hooded dams on gestational day 15. This induced transient hypothermia, sickness behavior and weight loss in the dams, and led to locomotor hyperactivity, elevated striatal cytokine levels, and increased frontal cortical JNK phosphorylation in the offspring at adulthood. Remarkably, instead of exacerbating the well-characterized isolation syndrome, gestational PIC exposure actually protected against a spectrum of isolation-induced behavioral and brain regional changes. Thus isolation reared rats exhibited locomotor hyperactivity, impaired associative memory and reversal learning, elevated hippocampal and frontal cortical cytokine levels, and increased mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) activation in the frontal cortex – which were not evident in isolates previously exposed to gestational PIC. Brains from adolescent littermates suggest little contribution of cytokines, mTOR or JNK to early development of the isolation syndrome, or resilience conferred by PIC. But notably hippocampal oxytocin, which can protect against stress, was higher in adolescent PIC-exposed isolates so might contribute to a more favorable outcome. These findings have implications for identifying individuals at risk for disorders like schizophrenia who may benefit from early therapeutic intervention, and justify preclinical assessment of whether adolescent oxytocin manipulations can modulate disease onset or progression.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
JournalBrain, Behavior, and Immunity
Early online date30 May 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 30 May 2020