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Physiol Behav. 1991 Sep;50(3):601-5.

Prenatal stress feminizes juvenile play patterns in male rats.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Villanova University, PA 19085.


Sexually dimorphic rough-and-tumble play patterns were compared in male and female rats derived from control mothers and mothers stressed from days 14-21 of pregnancy. Animals were weaned into groups of 8 consisting of 2 males and 2 females from each treatment. Play in the home cage was recorded at 25, 28, 31, 34, 37 and 45 days of age and was most intense on day 31. The overall level of play was significantly higher in control males than in females or stressed males. Control males showed higher levels of the pinning component of rough-and-tumble play than females or stressed males. No play partner preferences were detected in any group. In adulthood, a higher percentage of stressed than control males displayed the female lordotic pattern. No deficits in ejaculatory behavior occurred in the stressed males. Since maternal stress alters patterns of plasma testosterone in male fetuses, the data suggest that the sexual differentiation of social play begins during prenatal ontogeny in the rat. The present results show that sexually dimorphic behaviors displayed before puberty are incompletely masculinized in prenatally stressed males, a finding similar to that reported for a number of adult behaviors.

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