Prosocial effects of prolactin in male rats: Social recognition, social approach and social learning

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Abstract

Prolactin (PRL) and oxytocin (OT) are pituitary hormones essential for lactation, but also promote sexual behavior. OT stimulates social behaviors, such as recognition, approach, and learning, but less is known about PRL in these behaviors. Since PRL and OT have complementary functions in reproduction, we hypothesized that PRL increases social recognition, approach, and learning. Male Long-Evans rats received ovine PRL (oPRL; 0.5, 2.0 or 5.0 mg/kg), the PRL antagonist bromocriptine (0.1, 3.0 or 5.0 mg/kg) or saline 20 mins before testing for recognition of familiar vs. unfamiliar stimulus males. Saline controls preferred the unfamiliar male (p < 0.05), while bromocriptine blocked this preference. oPRL did not increase preference. To measure social approach, we determined if PRL restores approach 2 h after defeat by an aggressive male. Defeated rats avoided the aggressive male. 2 mg/kg oPRL, before or after defeat, restored approach towards the aggressive male (p < 0.05). In non-defeated rats, oPRL or 3 mg/kg bromocriptine had no effect. To determine if PRL increases social learning, we tested social transmission of food preference. Rats choose between two unfamiliar flavors, one of which they have previously been exposed to through interaction with a demonstrator rat. Vehicle controls preferred chow with the demonstrated flavor over the novel flavor. oPRL-treated rats were similar. Bromocriptine-treated rats failed to show a preference. When tested one week later, only oPRL-treated rats preferred the demonstrated flavor. The results suggest that PRL is required for social recognition and learning, and that increasing PRL enhances social memory and approach, similar to OT.

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