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Effects of early serotonin programming on behavior and central monoamine concentrations in an avian model

Dennis, R. L., Lay, D. C., Jr., H. W.
Behavioural Brain Research 2013 v.253 pp. 290
White Leghorn, aggression, chickens, chicks, fearfulness, genes, high performance liquid chromatography, hypothalamus, lactation, memory, models, mothers, neurodevelopment, norepinephrine, red light, reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction, serotonin, vocalization, white light
Serotonin (5-HT) acts as a neurogenic compound in the developing brain; however serotonin altering drugs such as SSRIs are often prescribed to pregnant and lactating mothers. Early agonism of 5-HT receptors could alter the development of serotonergic circuitry, altering neurotransmission and behaviors mediated by 5-HT signaling, including memory, fear and aggression. This study was designed to investigate the effects of early serotonin agonism on later behaviors. An extremely aggressive White leghorn strain (15I5) was used in the study. The chicks were injected with 5-MT (a serotonin agonist) at 2.5 mg/kg (low dose), 10 mg/kg (high dose) or saline (control) on the day of hatch and a second dose 24 h later (n = 9/sex/trt). Chicks’ fear response and memory were tested at 2 weeks of age. In the fear test, chicks were subjected to a social isolation test for 20 min, time to first vocalization and numbers of vocalizations were recorded. In the memory test, chicks were placed in a running wheel and presented with an imprinted object (white box with a red light) and a similar shaped novel object (blue box with a white light), respectively. The distance traveled in the wheel toward each object was measured. At 10 weeks of age birds were tested for aggression and concentrations of catecholamines were determined from the raphe nucleus and hypothalamus by HPLC (n = 12). Expression of 5-HT1A and 5-HT1B receptor genes were measured by RT-PCR. Both high and low dose chicks tended to have shorter latency to first vocalization and a greater number of vocalizations compared with control chicks. Memory test showed that chicks from all groups traveled a similar distance toward a familiar object. However, control chicks walked the least toward a novel object, low dose chicks tended to walk further, and high dose chicks walked significantly further for a novel object. In aggression tests, both high and low dose males exhibited greater frequency of aggressive behaviors compared to controls, while no difference in aggression was evident in the females. Norepinephrine concentrations were also reduced in the low dose birds in the hypothalamus and in the raphe nucleus. Serotonin concentrations tended to be lower only in the both hypothalamus and raphe nucleus of the low dose birds. 5-HT1A expression was greatest in the hypothalamus and raphe nucleus of low dose birds. The agonism of the serotonin system during neural development of birds genetically predisposed to aggression alters both the dopaminergic and serotonergic systems further increasing their aggressiveness.