Does chronic unpredictable stress during adolescence affect spatial cognition in adulthood?

Lauren E. Chaby, Michael J. Sheriff, Amy M. Hirrlinger, James Lim, Thomas B. Fetherston, Victoria A. Braithwaite

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Spatial abilities allow animals to retain and cognitively manipulate information about their spatial environment and are dependent upon neural structures that mature during adolescence. Exposure to stress in adolescence is thought to disrupt neural maturation, possibly compromising cognitive processes later in life. We examined whether exposure to chronic unpredictable stress in adolescence affects spatial ability in late adulthood. We evaluated spatial learning, reference and working memory, as well as long-term retention of visuospatial cues using a radial arm water maze. We found that stress in adolescence decreased the rate of improvement in spatial learning in adulthood. However, we found no overall performance impairments in adult reference memory, working memory, or retention caused by adolescent-stress. Together, these findings suggest that adolescent-stress may alter the strategy used to solve spatial challenges, resulting in performance that is more consistent but is not refined by incorporating available spatial information. Interestingly, we also found that adolescent-stressed rats showed a shorter latency to begin the water maze task when re-exposed to the maze after an overnight delay compared with control rats. This suggests that adolescent exposure to reoccurring stressors may prepare animals for subsequent reoccurring challenges. Overall, our results show that stress in adolescence does not affect all cognitive processes, but may affect cognition in a context-dependent manner.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0141908
JournalPloS one
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General


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