Effects of social deprivation on social and depressive-like behaviors and the numbers of oxytocin expressing neurons in rats

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Social isolation is a known stressor that negatively impacts the well-being of social species. In rodents, social deprivation experienced either before or after weaning profoundly impacts adult behavioral and neuroendocrine profiles. This study compared the effects of post-natal and post-weaning social deprivation on behavioral profiles and hypothalamic oxytocin (OT) neurons. Male and female Sprague–Dawley rats were assigned to two post-natal groups, maternally separated (MS) or non-MS. MS pups were separated from their mothers for 4 h daily during post-natal days 2–21 while non-MS litters remained undisturbed. Animals were then weaned and assigned to single or group housing conditions (SH/GH). Social behaviors were evaluated two weeks later and at 2–3 months of age, depressive-like behavioral profiles were assessed using the forced swim and sucrose preference tests. Animals were euthanized, and hypothalamic OT neurons were quantified. Post-weaning isolation significantly impacted behavioral profiles, with SH animals displaying more social behaviors than GH animals. SH animals also exhibited more immobility behavior in the forced swim test and a decreased sucrose preference. Effects of sex and MS were relatively limited. Correlation analyses revealed an inverse relationship between the display of antagonistic social behaviors and the numbers of OT cells in the anterior parvicellular division of the paraventricular nucleus (PVNap). There were no correlations between numbers of OT neurons and prosocial or depressive-like behaviors. Our results demonstrate a rapid and persistent disruption of behaviors in SH animals and suggest that some of these effects may be associated with numbers of OT neurons in the PVNap.

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