Stressful early life experiences are implicated in lifelong health. However, little is known about the consequences of emotional stress (ES) or physical stress (PS) on neurobiology. Therefore, the following set of experiments was designed to assess changes in transcription and translation of key proteins within the nucleus accumbens (NAc). Male adolescent (postnatal day 35) or adult (8-week-old) mice were exposed to ES or PS using a witness social defeat paradigm. Then, 24 h after the last stress session, we measured levels of specific mRNAs and proteins within the NAc. Spine density was also assessed in separate groups of mice. Exposure to ES or PS disrupted extracellular signal-related kinase 2 (ERK2), reduced transcription of ΔFosB and had no effect on cAMP response element-binding protein (CREB) mRNA. Western blots revealed that exposure to ES or PS decreased ERK2 phosphorylation in adolescents, whereas the same stress regimen increased ERK2 phosphorylation in adults. Exposure to ES or PS had no effect on ΔFosB or CREB phosphorylation. ES and PS increased spine density in the NAc of adolescent exposed mice, but only exposure to PS increased spine density in adults. Together, these findings demonstrate that exposure to ES or PS is a potent stressor in adolescent and adult mice and can disturb the integrity of the NAc by altering transcription and translation of important signaling molecules in an age-dependent manner. Furthermore, exposure to ES and PS induces substantial synaptic plasticity of the NAc.

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