“Mast cells may also be a viable target for prophylactic drugs that help prevent these psychological disorders in children who experience these traumatic events,” Saulsbery said.
The researchers compared stressed rats to unstressed rats, and also compared animals based on sex. And they looked at the effects of prenatal stress, a single stressor after birth and chronic stress.
“We found that stress at different times had different effects – chronic exposure to stress is where we saw the significant differences in mast cell activity in the brain,” Lenz said, adding that those animals had 30 percent more of the immune cells than their unstressed counterparts.
Chronic stress in the animals included being left alone without their mothers for periods of time.
Male animals had more mast cells overall, which is interesting because there is evidence that, in humans, males may be more vulnerable to serious problems stemming from early childhood trauma, Lenz said.