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Dev Neurobiol. 2008 Apr;68(5):685-95. doi: 10.1002/dneu.20622.

Refinement of dendritic and synaptic networks in the rodent anterior cingulate and orbitofrontal cortex: critical impact of early and late social experience.

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Department of Zoology and Developmental Neurobiology, Institute of Biology, Otto von Guericke University, Brenneckestr. 6, 39118 Magdeburg Germany.


The process of weaning programs the neurobehavioral development and therefore provides a critical formative period for adult behavior. However, the neural substrates underlying these behavioral changes are largely unknown. To test the hypothesis that during childhood neuronal networks in the prefrontal cortex are reorganized in response to the timing and extent of social interactions, we analyzed the length, ramification, and spine density of apical and basal dendrites of layer II/III pyramidal neurons in four groups of male rats. (1) Early weaning at postnatal day (PND) 21 + postweaning social rearing (EWS), (2) late weaning at PND 30 + postweaning social rearing (LWS), (3) early weaning + postweaning social isolation (EWI), (4) late weaning + postweaning social isolation (LWI). Compared with late weaned animals, the early weaned animals displayed elevated spine densities on apical and basal dendrites only in the anterior cingulate (ACd), but not in the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), irrespective of the postweaning housing conditions. For dendritic length and complexity an interaction between the factors weaning and postweaning rearing conditions was observed. In the ACd the EWI animals had longer and more complex apical dendrites compared with all other groups, whereas in the OFC the EWI animals displayed a significant reduction of apical dendritic length and complexity compared with the EWS group. Taken together, our findings show that the timing as well as the amount of social contact with family members significantly affects the refinement of prefrontal cortical synaptic networks, which are essential for emotional and cognitive behavior.

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