Growing evidence suggests that excess glucocorticoids (GCs) exposure during the pregnancy results in behavioral abnormality in offspring. Although research using animal models has demonstrated that systemic GCs treatment impairs development of fetal brain, direct impact of GCs on the phenotype of embryonic neural stem/progenitor cells (eNSPCs) and its mechanism has not been fully understood. Here, we investigated the effect of chronic GCs exposure on cell proliferation, differentiation, and survival of eNSPCs in vitro. Corticosterone (CORT, a murine GC) treatment did not affect the proliferation of eNSPCs. On the other hand, decreased expression of neuronal, synaptic, and astroglial marker proteins were observed when the differentiation of eNSPCs was induced in the presence of CORT. CORT also reduced the survival rate of eNSPCs after the differentiation. Moreover, CORT inhibited extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) and phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase/Akt (PI3K/Akt) signaling pathways, which were activated during cell differentiation of eNSPCs. Inhibiting these signaling pathways reduced neural differentiation and eNSPCs viability, indicating their essential roles in the eNSPCs differentiation. Furthermore, IGF-I, a potent PI3K/Akt and ERK signaling stimulator, partially restored the adverse effect of CORT on eNSPCs, suggesting a possible involvement of the repression of these intracellular signaling in the GCs-caused eNSPCs impairment.
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