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Analyzing the experiences of adolescent control rats: Effects of the absence of physical or social stimulation on anxiety-like behaviour are dependent on the test

Joshi, Namrata, Leslie, Ronald A., Perrot, Tara S.
Physiology & behavior 2017 v.179 pp. 30-41
adolescence, adolescents, adulthood, elevated plus-maze test, long term effects, odors, rats, rearing, sucrose
The present study was designed to systematically assess the control experience routinely used in our laboratory as part of studies on predator odour stress. Specifically, we examined effects of the physical and social components of this control experience on measures of anxiety-like behaviour in adolescent rats. Adolescent animals are at increased susceptibility to environmental perturbations and have been used for such studies much less often. Long-Evans rats of both sexes were subjected to physical stimulation (Exposed or Unexposed) and social stimulation (Single-Housed or Pair-Housed), resulting in four groups. Exposed rats received six 30-min exposures to an enclosed arena containing an unscented piece of cat collar occurring between adolescence and early adulthood, while Unexposed remained in the home cage. Groups of Exposed and Unexposed animals were housed singly (Single-Housed) from early adolescence to early adulthood or Pair-Housed during this time. Experimental procedures began in adolescence and involved repeated assessment of startle amplitude (measure of anxiety-like behaviour) and prepulse inhibition (PPI; a measure of sensorimotor gating) to gauge the short-term impact of social and/or physical stimulation. All animals were re-paired in adulthood prior to a final startle/PPI session to assess if isolation limited to adolescence could impose long-term effects that were not reversible. We also measured anxiety-like behaviour in adulthood using an extended open field test (EOFT; addition of novel objects to the open field on later days), and the elevated plus maze task (EPM), as well as a sucrose preference test (SPT) to measure anhedonia. An absence of social or physical stimulation resulted in increased startle amplitude and some measures of anxiety-like behaviour in the EOFT, but a reduction in such anxiety-like behaviour in the EPM task. These results suggest common neural substrates for the physical and social experiences. Performance in the SPT was unaltered by any experimental treatments. Sensorimotor gating, as measured by PPI, was increased in the absence of physical stimulation with no short-term effect of isolation, or of re-pairing. These results indicate the importance of considering individual components of the rearing environment of rats, while showing the need to use multiple assays of anxiety-like behaviour.