Stress-Induced Changes in Spatial Memory are Sexually Differentiated and Vary Across the Lifespan

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Stress exposure, depending on intensity and duration, elicits adaptive or maladaptive physiological changes. The same general pattern of advantageous versus deleterious stress effects appears to exist for some cognitive functions, particularly spatial learning and memory performance. This article reviews sex differences in response to stress on a variety of spatial tasks. In general, females are more resistant than males to stress-induced impairments on spatial tasks, including the radial arm maze and object placement. In young adulthood, chronic stress (restraint, 6 h per day for 21 days) impairs male performance on both tasks but leads to behavioural enhancements in females. Furthermore, these sex-dependent stress effects are influenced by both organisational and activational oestrogenic effects. Additionally, sex-specific stress responses vary depending on developmental age at the time of stress exposure. Male behavioural stress responses appear fixed across the lifespan (i.e. stress-induced cognitive impairments) whereas female stress responses appear more variable (i.e. stress-induced enhancements observed in young adulthood are different in response to prenatal stress and diminished following stress exposure at old age). These findings underscore the point that many effects obtained in males cannot be generalised to females and highlight the need to investigate the stress response at different ages and in both sexes.


Originally published:

Bowman, R. E. "Stress-Induced Changes In Spatial Memory Are Sexually Differentiated And Vary Across The Lifespan." Journal Of Neuroendocrinology 17.8 (2005): 526-535.