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It is well known that stressful experiences may shape hippocampus-dependent learning and memory processes. However, although most studies focused on the impact of stress at the time of learning or memory testing, very little is known about how stress during critical periods of brain development affects learning and memory later in life. In this study, we asked whether prenatal stress exposure may influence the engagement of hippocampus-dependent spatial learning strategies and caudate nucleus-dependent response learning strategies in later life. To this end, we tested healthy participants whose mothers had experienced major negative life events during their pregnancy in a virtual navigation task that can be solved by spatial and response strategies. We found that young adults with prenatal stress used rigid response learning strategies more often than flexible spatial learning strategies compared with participants whose mothers did not experience major negative life events during pregnancy. Individual differences in acute or chronic stress do not account for these findings. Our data suggest that the engagement of hippocampal and nonhippocampal learning strategies may be influenced by stress very early in life. Copyright © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Citation

Lars Schwabe, Veronique D Bohbot, Oliver T Wolf. Prenatal stress changes learning strategies in adulthood. Hippocampus. 2012 Nov;22(11):2136-43

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PMID: 22605683

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