Social and physical environments as a source of individual variation in the rewarding effects of testosterone in male California mice (Peromyscus californicus)

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Despite extensive research revealing the occurrence of testosterone (T) pulses following social encounters, it is unclear how they lead to varied behavioral responses. We investigated the influence of residency (home versus unfamiliar environment) and social/sexual experience (pair-bonded, isolated or housed with siblings) on the plasticity of T's rewarding effects by measuring the development of conditioned place preferences (CPPs), a classical paradigm used to measure the rewarding properties of drugs. For pair-bonded males, T-induced CPPs were only produced in the environment wherein the social/sexual experience was accrued and residency status had been achieved. For isolated males, the T-induced CPPs only occurred when the environment was unfamiliar. For males housed with a male sibling, the T-induced CPPs were prevented in both the home and unfamiliar chambers. Our results reveal the plasticity of T's rewarding effects, and suggest that the behavioral functions of T-pulses can vary based on social/sexual experience and the environment in which residency was established. The formation of CPPs or reward-like properties of drugs and natural compounds can therefore exhibit malleability based on past experience and the current environment.

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