An acute social defeat stressor in early puberty increases susceptibility to social defeat in adulthood

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Syrian hamsters readily display territorial aggression. If they lose even a single agonistic encounter, however, hamsters show striking reductions in aggressive behavior and increases in submissive behavior, a distinct behavioral change that we have previously termed conditioned defeat. This acute social defeat stressor is primarily psychological and is effective in both males and females. Therefore, we maintain that this procedure presents an ideal model for studying behavioral and physiological responses to social stress. Here, we demonstrate that social avoidance following social defeat is a particularly useful dependent measure because of its sensitivity and stability between sexes and across the estrous cycle. In addition, we demonstrate that peripubertal hamsters exposed to a single, 15 min social defeat exhibit significantly more social avoidance 24 h later when compared with no-defeat controls. Later, defeated and non-defeated hamsters display similar agonistic behavior in adulthood indicating that the peripubertal defeat does not alter adult territorial aggression. After experiencing an additional social defeat in adulthood, however, the hamsters that experienced the pubertal defeat respond to the adult defeat with increased social avoidance when compared with hamsters that were defeated only in adulthood and with no-defeat controls. These data are the first to show that a single social defeat in puberty increases susceptibility to later social defeat in both males and females.

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