Early adversity causes sex-specific deficits in perforant pathway connectivity and contextual memory in adolescent mice

Rafiad Islam, Jordon D. White, Tanzil M. Arefin, Sameet Mehta, Xinran Liu, Baruh Polis, Lauryn Giuliano, Sahabuddin Ahmed, Christian Bowers, Jiangyang Zhang, Arie Kaffman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Early life adversity impairs hippocampal development and function across diverse species. While initial evidence indicated potential variations between males and females, further research is required to validate these observations and better understand the underlying mechanisms contributing to these sex differences. Furthermore, most of the preclinical work in rodents was performed in adult males, with only few studies examining sex differences during adolescence when such differences appear more pronounced. To address these concerns, we investigated the impact of limited bedding (LB), a mouse model of early adversity, on hippocampal development in prepubescent and adolescent male and female mice. Methods: RNA sequencing, confocal microscopy, and electron microscopy were used to evaluate the impact of LB and sex on hippocampal development in prepubescent postnatal day 17 (P17) mice. Additional studies were conducted on adolescent mice aged P29-36, which included contextual fear conditioning, retrograde tracing, and ex vivo diffusion magnetic resonance imaging (dMRI). Results: More severe deficits in axonal innervation and myelination were found in the perforant pathway of prepubescent and adolescent LB males compared to LB female littermates. These sex differences were due to a failure of reelin-positive neurons located in the lateral entorhinal cortex (LEC) to innervate the dorsal hippocampus via the perforant pathway in males, but not LB females, and were strongly correlated with deficits in contextual fear conditioning. Conclusions: LB impairs the capacity of reelin-positive cells located in the LEC to project and innervate the dorsal hippocampus in LB males but not female LB littermates. Given the critical role that these projections play in supporting normal hippocampal function, a failure to establish proper connectivity between the LEC and the dorsal hippocampus provides a compelling and novel mechanism to explain the more severe deficits in myelination and contextual freezing found in adolescent LB males.

Original languageEnglish
Article number39
JournalBiology of Sex Differences
Issue number1
StatePublished - 7 May 2024
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2024.


  • Cortical thinning
  • Early adversity
  • Limited bedding and nesting
  • Myelination
  • Perforant pathway
  • Reelin


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