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Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2007 Sep-Nov;32(8-10):966-80. Epub 2007 Sep 7.

Social isolation induces behavioral and neuroendocrine disturbances relevant to depression in female and male prairie voles.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, Brain-Body Center, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, IL 60612, USA. agrippo@psych.uic.edu

Abstract

Supportive social interactions may be protective against stressors and certain mental and physical illness, while social isolation may be a powerful stressor. Prairie voles are socially monogamous rodents that model some of the behavioral and physiological traits displayed by humans, including sensitivity to social isolation. Neuroendocrine and behavioral parameters, selected for their relevance to stress and depression, were measured in adult female and male prairie voles following 4 weeks of social isolation versus paired housing. In Experiment 1, oxytocin-immunoreactive cell density was higher in the hypothalamic paraventricular nucleus (PVN) and plasma oxytocin was elevated in isolated females, but not in males. In Experiment 2, sucrose intake, used as an operational definition of hedonia, was reduced in both sexes following 4 weeks of isolation. Animals then received a resident-intruder test, and were sacrificed either 10 min later for the analysis of circulating hormones and peptides, or 2h later to examine neural activation, indexed by c-Fos expression in PVN cells immunoreactive for oxytocin or corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF). Compared to paired animals, plasma oxytocin, ACTH and corticosterone were elevated in isolated females and plasma oxytocin was elevated in isolated males, following the resident-intruder test. The proportion of cells double-labeled for c-Fos and oxytocin or c-Fos and CRF was elevated in isolated females, and the proportion of cells double-labeled for c-Fos and oxytocin was elevated in isolated males following this test. These findings suggest that social isolation induces behavioral and neuroendocrine responses relevant to depression in male and female prairie voles, although neuroendocrine responses in females may be especially sensitive to isolation.

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