We have studied the effects of an acute predator stress experience on spatial learning and memory in adult male and female Sprague-Dawley rats. All rats were trained to learn the location of a hidden escape platform in the radial-arm water maze (RAWM), a hippocampus-dependent spatial memory task. In the control (non-stress) condition, female rats were superior to the males in the accuracy and consistency of their spatial memory performance tested over multiple days of training. In the stress condition, rats were exposed to the cat for 30 min immediately before or after learning, or before the 24-h memory test. Predator stress dramatically increased corticosterone levels in males and females, with females exhibiting greater baseline and stress-evoked responses than males. Despite these sex differences in the overall magnitudes of corticosterone levels, there were significant sex-independent correlations involving basal and stress-evoked corticosterone levels, and memory performance. Most importantly, predator stress impaired short-term memory, as well as processes involved in memory consolidation and retrieval, in male and female rats. Overall, we have found that an intense, ethologically relevant stressor produced a largely equivalent impairment of memory in male and female rats, and sex-independent corticosterone-memory correlations. These findings may provide insight into commonalities in how traumatic stress affects the brain and memory in men and women.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
- Cognitive Neuroscience
- Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience