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Effects of maternal deprivation and complex housing on pro-social behavior in rats: An automated, operant task examining motivation to liberate a trapped conspecific

By Aikaterini Kalamari, Jiska Kentrop, Chiara Hinna Danesi, Evelien J.M Graat, Marinus H. van IJzendoorn, Marian J. Bakermans-Kranenburg, Marian Joels, Rixt van der Veen

Posted 01 Dec 2020
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.11.30.403386

Early life environment influences the development of various aspects of social behavior, particularly during sensitive developmental periods. Here, we aimed to study how challenges in the early postnatal period or (early) adolescence affect pro-social behavior. To this end, we adapted an existing paw operated liberation task to an automated operant task, to measure motivation (by progressively increasing required lever pressing) to liberate a trapped conspecific. Liberation of the trapped rat resulted either in social contact, or in liberation into a separate compartment. Additionally, a condition was tested in which both rats could freely move in two separate compartments and lever pressing resulted in social contact. When partners were not trapped, rats were more motivated to press the lever for opening the door than in either of the trapped configurations. Contrary to our expectation, the trapped configuration resulted in a reduced motivation to act. Early postnatal stress (24h maternal deprivation on postnatal day 3) did not affect behavior in the liberation task. However, rearing rats from early adolescence onwards in complex housing conditions (Marlau cages) reduced the motivation to door opening, both in the trapped and freely moving conditions, while motivation for a sucrose reward was not affected.

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