Adrenocortical Activity During Conditions of Brief Social Separation in Preweaning Rats

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Rat pups (18 days of age) placed into a novel test cage for 30 min exhibited greater concentrations of plasma corticosterone if alone than if with the biological mother regardless of whether she was conscious or anesthetized. Pups tested with a conscious nonlactating female had higher corticosterone levels than did pups tested with their own conscious mother. Anesthetizing the adult stimulus females eliminated this differential effect. Further, pups isolated in the home cage for 30 min exhibited corticosterone elevations as great as those of pups placed into a novel environment. However, pups left in the home cage with the mother for 30 min displayed corticosterone elevations similar to those of pups isolated in the home cage. In contrast, if pups were left in the home cage with both the mother and the littermates corticosteroid levels were reduced. These results indicate that, under certain conditions, brief separation from the mother can elevate plasma corticosterone levels in the 18-day-old rat. The differential effect of the biological mother and the nonlactating female appears attributable to differences in the behavior of the adult females. Finally, brief isolation from all littermates was also found to evoke a plasma corticosterone response.



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