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Publication Date


Document Type

Honors Project




Parental behavior in animals, Rats-Behavior, Phenotypic plasticity, Oxytocin-Receptors, Social behavior in animals, Anxiety, Neuroendrocrinology, Maternal care, Social behavior, Anxiety behavior


Differences in early experience can lead to lifelong physiological and behavioral differences between genetically similar organisms. In rats, naturally occurring variation in the level of maternal care (licking and grooming) received by pups in the first week of life differentially shapes development and predicts diverse outcomes in adulthood. Rats exposed to prenatal stress exhibit substantial deficits in social interaction behavior as adults, but effects of maternal care behaviors on adult social interaction behavior have not been characterized. We selected rats that received either high or low levels of maternal licking and grooming (LG), and compared their adult social interaction, anxiety-like, and feeding behaviors; and oxytocin receptor binding densities in the central nucleus of the amygdala, bed nucleus of the stria terminalis, and nucleus accumbens. We found that male and female offspring of low-LG dams exhibited decreased social interaction behavior in adulthood relative to offspring of high-LG dams. This behavioral difference occurred in the absence of significant differences in anxiety-like behaviors or in oxytocin receptor binding densities in brain regions related to social behavior, fear, and reward. From this, we concluded that early maternal care can shape adult social interaction behavior in rats, but different oxytocin receptor binding densities in the brain regions we examined were not necessary to support different levels of social interaction behavior. Additionally, we concluded that differences in adult social interaction can occur in the absence of differences in anxiety or in central amygdala oxytocin receptor binding.




51 p. ill. (some col.) Honors project-Smith College, Northampton, Mass. ,2012. Includes bibliographical references (p. 47-51)