The Impact of Mild Chronic Stress and Maternal Experience in the Fmr1 Mouse Model of Fragile X Syndrome

Enejda Subashi, Valerie Lemaire, Valeria Petroni, Susanna Pietropaolo
IJMS. 2023-07-13; 24(14): 11398
DOI: 10.3390/ijms241411398

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Fragile X syndrome (FXS) is a pervasive developmental disorder and the most common monogenic cause of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Female heterozygous (HET) carriers play a major role in the transmission of the pathology and present several FXS- and ASD-like behavioral alterations. Despite their clear genetic origins, FXS symptoms are known to be modulated by environmental factors, e.g., exposure to chronic stress, especially during critical life periods, such as pregnancy. Pregnancy, together with pups’ care, constitutes maternal experience, i.e., another powerful environmental factor affecting several neurobehavioral functions in females. Here we investigated the impact of maternal experience on the long-term effects of stress in Fmr1-HET female mice. Our findings demonstrated that the behavioral abnormalities of HET females, i.e., hyperactivity and memory deficits, were unaffected by stress or maternal experience. In contrast, stress, independently of maternal experience, induced the appearance of cognitive deficits in WT mice. Maternal experience increased anxiety levels in all mice and enhanced their corticosterone levels, concomitantly promoting the effects of stress on social communication and adrenal glands. In translational terms, these results advance our understanding of the environmental modulation of the behavioral alterations observed in FXS female carriers and highlight the long-term impact of maternal experience and its interactions with chronic stress.

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