Neonatal experiences exert persistent influences on individual development. These influences encompass numerous domains including emotion, cognition, reactivity to external stressors and immunity. The comprehensive nature of the neonatal programming of individual phenotype is reverberated in the large amount of experimental data collected by many authors in several scientific fields: biomedicine, evolutionary and molecular biology. These data support the view that variations in precocious environmental conditions may calibrate the individual phenotype at many different levels. Environmental influences have been traditionally addressed through experimental paradigms entailing the modification of the neonatal environment and the multifactorial (e.g. behaviour, endocrinology, cellular and molecular biology) analysis of the developing individual's phenotype. These protocols suggested that the role of the mother in mediating the offspring's phenotype is often associated with the short-term effects of environmental manipulations on dam's physiology. Specifically, environmental manipulations may induce fluctuations in maternal corticosteroids (corticosterone in rodents) which, in turn, are translated to the offspring through lactation. Herein, I propose that this mother-offspring transfer mechanism can be leveraged to devise experimental protocols based on the exogenous administration of corticosterone during lactation. To support this proposition, I refer to a series of studies in which these protocols have been adopted to investigate the neonatal programming of individual phenotype at the level of emotional and immune regulations. While these paradigms cannot replace traditional studies, I suggest that they can be considered a valid complement.
Macrì, S. (2017). Neonatal corticosterone administration in rodents as a tool to investigate the maternal programming of emotional and immune domains. Neurobiology of Stress, 6, 22–30. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ynstr.2016.12.001