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Neuroscience. 2012 May 17;210:168-78. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2012.03.002. Epub 2012 Mar 9.

Social status alters defeat-induced neural activation in Syrian hamsters.

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Department of Psychology, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN 37996, USA.


Although exposure to social stress leads to increased depression-like and anxiety-like behavior, some individuals are more vulnerable than others to these stress-induced changes in behavior. Prior social experience is one factor that can modulate how individuals respond to stressful events. In this study, we investigated whether experience-dependent resistance to the behavioral consequences of social defeat was associated with a specific pattern of neural activation. We paired weight-matched male Syrian hamsters in daily aggressive encounters for 2 weeks, during which they formed a stable dominance relationship. We also included control animals that were exposed to an empty cage each day for 2 weeks. Twenty-four hours after the final pairing or empty cage exposure, half of the subjects were socially defeated in 3, 5-min encounters, whereas the others were not socially defeated. Twenty-four hours after social defeat, animals were tested for conditioned defeat in a 5-min social interaction test with a non-aggressive intruder. We collected brains after social defeat and processed the tissue for c-Fos immunoreactivity. We found that dominants were more likely than subordinates to counter-attack the resident aggressor during social defeat, and they showed less submissive and defensive behavior at conditioned defeat testing compared with subordinates. Also, social status was associated with distinct patterns of defeat-induced neural activation in select brain regions, including the amygdala, prefrontal cortex, hypothalamus, and lateral septum. Our results indicate that social status is an important form of prior experience that predicts both initial coping style and the degree of resistance to social defeat. Further, the differences in defeat-induced neural activation suggest possible brain regions that may control resistance to conditioned defeat in dominant individuals.

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