NYMC Faculty Publications

Reduced Hippocampal Dendrite Branching, Spine Density and Neurocognitive Function in Premature Rabbits, and Reversal with Estrogen or TrkB Agonist Treatment



Journal Title

Cerebral Cortex

Document Type


Publication Date

March 2019


Cell Biology and Anatomy


Preterm-born children suffer from neurological and behavioral disorders. Herein, we hypothesized that premature birth and non-maternal care of preterm newborns might disrupt neurobehavioral function, hippocampal dendritic arborization, and dendritic spine density. Additionally, we assessed whether 17beta-estradiol (E2) replacement or the TrkB receptor agonist, 7,8-dihydroxyflavone (DHF), would reverse compromised dendritic development and cognitive function in preterm newborns. These hypotheses were tested by comparing preterm (E28.5) rabbit kits cared and gavage-fed by laboratory personnel and term-kits reared and breast-fed by their mother doe at an equivalent postconceptional age. Neurobehavioral tests showed that both premature-birth and formula-feeding with non-maternal care led to increased anxiety behavior, poor social interaction, and lack of novelty preference compared with term-kits. Dendritic branching and number of total or mushroom dendritic spines were reduced in the CA1 field of preterm-kits compared with term controls. While CDC42 and Rac1/2/3 expression levels were lower, RhoA-activity was higher in preterm-kits compared with term controls. Both E2 and DHF treatment reversed prematurity-induced reduction in spine density, reduced total RhoA-GTPase levels, and enhanced cognitive function. Hence, prematurity and non-maternal care result in cognitive deficits, and reduced dendritic arbors and spines in CA1. E2 replacement or DHF treatment might reverse changes in dendritic spines and improve neurodevelopment in premature infants.