Gonadectomy negatively impacts social behavior of adolescent male primates

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Abstract

Social behavior changes dramatically during primate adolescence. However, the extent to which testosterone and other gonadal hormones are necessary for adolescent social behavioral development is unknown. In this study, we determined that gonadectomy significantly impairs social dominance in naturalistic settings and changes reactions to social stimuli in experimental settings. Rhesus macaques were castrated (n = 6) or sham operated (n = 6) at age 2.4 years, group-housed for 2 years, and ethograms were collected weekly. During adolescence the gonadally intact monkeys displayed a decrease in subordinate behaviors and an increase in dominant behaviors, which ultimately related to a rise in social status and rank in the dominance hierarchy. We measured monkey's reactions to emotional faces (fear, threat, neutral) of conspecifics of three ages (adult, peer, infant). Intact monkeys were faster to retrieve a treat in front of a threatening or infant face, while castrated monkeys did not show a differential response to different emotional faces or ages. No group difference in reaction to an innate fear-eliciting object (snake) was found. Approach and proximity responses to familiar vs unfamiliar conspecifics were tested, and intact monkeys spent more time proximal to a novel conspecific as compared to castrates who tended to spend more time with a familiar conspecific. No group differences in time spent with novel or familiar objects were found. Thus, gonadectomy resulted in the emergence of significantly different responses to social stimuli, but not non-social stimuli. Our work suggests that intact gonads, which are needed to produce adolescent increases in circulating testosterone, impact social behavior during adolescences in primates.

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