Maternal and Early-Life Circadian Disruption Have Long-Lasting Negative Consequences on Offspring Development and Adult Behavior in Mice

Modern life involves chronic circadian disruption through artificial light and these disruptions are associated with numerous mental and physical health maladies. Because the developing nervous system is particularly vulnerable to perturbation, we hypothesized that early-life circadian disruption would negatively impact offspring development and adult function. Pregnant mice were subjected to chronic circadian disruption from the time of uterine implantation through weaning. To dissociate in utero from postnatal effects, a subset of litters was cross-fostered at birth from disrupted dams to control dams and vice versa. Postnatal circadian disruption was associated with reduced adult body mass, social avoidance, and hyperactivity. In utero disruption resulted in more pronounced social avoidance and hyperactivity, phenotypes not abrogated by cross-fostering to control mothers. To examine whether circadian disruption affects development by acting as an early life stressor, we examined birthweight, litter size, maternal cannibalism, and epigenetic modifications. None of these variables differed between control and disrupted dams, or resembled patterns seen following early-life stress. Our findings indicate that developmental chronic circadian disruption permanently affects somatic and behavioral development in a stage-of-life-dependent manner, independent of early life stress mechanisms, underscoring the importance of temporal structure during development, both in utero and early postnatal life.