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Sexually experienced, but not naïve, female rats show a conditioned object preference (COP) for mating after a single training trial

Piergies, Antonia M.H., Hicks, Maurice E., Schwartz, Jacob P., Meerts, Sarah H.
Physiology & behavior 2019 v.198 pp. 42-47
brain, estradiol, females, learning, males, mating behavior, ovariectomy, progesterone, rats
Female rats with mating experience spend more time with the male rat, exhibit shorter contact-return latency to intromission, and display more proceptive behaviors in the male rat's compartment than during the first mating experience. The present study tested 1) whether mating induced conditioned object preference (COP) is possible with a single conditioning trial and 2) whether a preference is induced for an object associated with the first mating encounter or the fifth mating encounter in female rats. Ovariectomized, Long-Evans female rats were primed with estradiol benzoate + progesterone and either exposed to an empty paced mating chamber for 15 min (Naïve) or received a 15 intromission test of paced mating behavior (Experienced) on four separate occasions before undergoing the COP procedure. Experienced, but not Naïve, female rats developed a COP for a single mating bout, indicating that mating is highly rewarding for sexually experienced female rats. The findings raise questions about the effect of sexual experience on reward regions in the brain, the responsiveness of genital tissue, and learning mechanisms.