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Chronic variable stress in fathers alters paternal and social behavior but not pup development in the biparental California mouse (Peromyscus californicus).


Stress and chronically elevated glucocorticoid levels have been shown to disrupt parental behavior in mothers; however, almost no studies have investigated corresponding effects in fathers. The present experiment tested the hypothesis that chronic variable stress inhibits paternal behavior and consequently alters pup development in the monogamous, biparental California mouse (Peromyscus californicus). First-time fathers were assigned to one of three experimental groups: chronic variable stress (CVS, n=8), separation control (SC, n=7), or unmanipulated control (UC, n=8). The CVS paradigm (3 stressors per day for 7 days) successfully stressed mice, as evidenced by increased baseline plasma corticosterone concentrations, increased adrenal mass, decreased thymus mass, and a decrease in body mass over time. CVS altered paternal and social behavior of fathers, but major differences were observed only on day 6 of the 7-day paradigm. At that time point, CVS fathers spent less time with their pairmate and pups, and more time autogrooming, as compared to UC fathers; SC fathers spent more time behaving paternally and grooming the female mate than CVS and UC fathers. Thus, CVS blocked the separation-induced increase in social behaviors observed in the SC fathers. Nonetheless, chronic stress in fathers did not appear to alter survival or development of their offspring: pups from the three experimental conditions did not differ in body mass gain over time, in the day of eye opening, or in basal or post-stress corticosterone levels. These results demonstrate that chronic stress can transiently disrupt paternal and social behavior in P. californicus fathers, but does not alter pup development or survival under controlled, non-challenging laboratory conditions.

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