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Early rearing experience is associated with vasopressin immunoreactivity but not reactivity to an acute non-social stressor in the prairie vole.

  • Author(s): Perkeybile, Allison M;
  • Bales, Karen L
  • et al.

The early life experiences of an organism have the potential to alter its developmental trajectories. Perhaps one of the most powerful influences during this period is the parent-offspring relationship. Previous work in several mammalian species has demonstrated that parental care in early life and specifically maternal behavior can influence several adult outcomes in offspring, including affiliative and aggressive behavior, parental behavior, hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) functioning and risk of psychopathology. We have previously demonstrated that naturally occurring variation in the type and amount of care given to offspring in a biparental species, the prairie vole (Microtus ochrogaster), is related to social, anxiety-like, aggressive behaviors as well as HPA response to chronic and acute social stressors. Here we aim to determine the effects of early biparental care on HPA functioning and the interaction between early care and later reactivity to a forced swim test, an acute non-social stressor. Behavior during the swim test as well as several indicators of HPA activity, including plasma corticosterone (CORT), corticotropin releasing hormone immunoreactivity (CRH-ir), and vasopressin immunoreactivity (AVP-ir) were measured. Results here indicate an effect of early experience on AVP-ir but not CRH-ir or plasma CORT. There were no differences in CORT levels between high-contact (HC) and low-contact (LC) males or females for either control animals or after a swim stressor. CRH-ir was higher in the central amygdala following a swim test but was not influenced by early care. However, AVP-ir was not influenced by exposure to a swim stressor but was affected by early parental care in a sex-dependent manner. Female HC offspring had increased AVP-ir in the SON while HC male offspring had decreased AVP-ir in the PVN compared to their LC counterparts. The differential response of CRH and AVP to early experience and later stress, and the lack of an interaction between early care rearing and later adult stress, suggest an independence in response of some components of the HPA system. In addition, these findings expand our understanding of the relationship between naturally occurring variation in early biparental care and sexual dimorphisms in adult outcomes.

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