Background: We previously showed that neonatal maternal separation (MS) of rat pups causes immediate and long-term changes in intestinal physiology. Aim: To examine if administration of probiotics affects MS-induced gut dysfunction. Methods: MS pups were separated from the dam for 3 h/day from days 4 to 19; non-separated (NS) pups served as controls. Twice per day during the separation period, 108 probiotic organisms (two strains of Lactobacillus species) were administered to MS and NS pups; vehicle-treated pups received saline. Studies were conducted on day 20, when blood was collected for corticosterone measurement as an indication of hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis activity, and colonic function was studied in tissues mounted in Ussing chambers. Ion transport was indicated by baseline and stimulated short-circuit current (Isc); macromolecular permeability was measured by flux of horseradish peroxidase (HRP) across colonic tissues; and bacterial adherence/penetration into the mucosa was quantified by culturing tissues in selective media. Colonic function and host defence were also evaluated at day 60. Results: Isc and HRP flux were significantly higher in the colon of MS versus NS pups. There was increased adhesion/penetration of total bacteria in MS pups, but a significant reduction in Lactobacillus species. Probiotic administration ameliorated the MS-induced gut functional abnormalities and bacterial adhesion/penetration at both day 20 and 60, and reduced the elevated corticosterone levels at day 20. Conclusions: The results indicate that altered enteric flora are responsible for colonic pathophysiology. Probiotics improve gut dysfunction induced by MS, at least in part by normalisation of HPA axis activity.
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