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J Neurosci. 1998 Apr 1;18(7):2667-72.

Behavioral and neurobiological consequences of social subjugation during puberty in golden hamsters.

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Neuropsychiatric Sciences Program, Psychiatry Department, University of Massachusetts Medical Center, Worcester, Massachusetts 01655, USA.


In golden hamsters, offensive aggression is facilitated by vasopressin and inhibited by serotonin. We tested whether these neurotransmitter systems respond to modifications resulting from the stress of threat and attack (i.e., social subjugation) during puberty. Male golden hamsters were weaned at postnatal day 25 (P25), exposed daily to aggressive adults from P28 to P42, and tested for offensive aggression as young adults (P45). The results showed a context-dependent alteration in aggressive behavior. Subjugated animals were more likely to attack younger and weaker intruders than nonsubjugated controls. Conversely, subjugated animals were less likely to attack animals of similar size and age. After testing, the animals were killed, and their brains were collected to determine whether these behavioral changes are underlined by changes in the vasopressin and serotonin systems. Social subjugation resulted in a 50% decrease in vasopressin levels within the anterior hypothalamus, a site involved in the regulation of aggression. Furthermore, whereas the density of vasopressin-immunoreactive fibers within the area was not significantly altered in subjugated animals, the number of serotonin-immunoreactive varicosities within the anterior hypothalamus and lateral septum was 20% higher in subjugated animals than in their controls. These results establish puberty as a developmental period sensitive to environmental stressors. Furthermore, the results show that changes in the vasopressin and serotonin systems can correlate with behavioral alterations, supporting the role of these two neurotransmitters in the regulation of aggression.

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