PURPOSE: Stress during pregnancy is a risk factor for the development of anxiety-related disorders in offspring later in life. The effects of treadmill exercise on anxiety-like behaviors and hippocampal cell proliferation were investigated using rats exposed to prenatal stress. METHODS: Exposure of pregnant rats to a hunting dog in an enclosed room was used to induce stress. Anxiety-like behaviors of offspring were evaluated using the elevated plus maze test. Immunohistochemistry for the detection of 5-bromo-2'-deoxyuridine and doublecortin (DCX) in the hippocampal dentate gyrus and 5-hydroxytryptamine 1A receptors (5-HT(1A)) in the dorsal raphe was conducted. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and tyrosine kinase B (TrkB) levels in the hippocampus were evaluated by western blot analysis. RESULTS: Offspring of maternal rats exposed to stress during pregnancy showed anxiety-like behaviors. Offspring also showed reduced expression of BDNF, TrkB, and DCX in the dentate gyrus, decreased cell proliferation in the hippocampus, and reduced 5-HT(1A) expression in the dorsal raphe. Postnatal treadmill exercise by offspring, but not maternal exercise during pregnancy, enhanced cell proliferation and expression of these proteins. CONCLUSIONS: Postnatal treadmill exercise ameliorated anxiety-like behaviors in offspring of stressed pregnant rats, and the alleviating effect of exercise on these behaviors is hypothesized to result from enhancement of cell proliferation through 5-HT(1A) activation in offspring rats.