Sensitization of Depressive-Like Behavior during Repeated Maternal Separation is Associated with More-Rapid Increase in Core Body Temperature and Reduced Plasma Cortisol Levels

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Infant guinea pigs exhibit a 2-stage response to maternal separation: an initial active stage, characterized by vocalizing, and a second passive stage marked by depressive-like behavior (hunched posture, prolonged eye-closure, extensive piloerection) that appears to be mediated by proinflammatory activity. Recently we found that pups showed an enhanced (i.e., sensitized) depressive-like behavioral response during repeated separation. Further, core body temperature was higher during the beginning of a second separation compared to the first, suggesting a more-rapid stress-induced febrile response to separation the second day, though the possibility that temperature was already elevated prior to the second separation could not be ruled out. Therefore, the present study examined temperature prior to, and during, 2 daily separations. We also examined the temperature response to a third separation conducted 3 days after the second, and assessed the effect of repeated separation on plasma cortisol levels. Core temperature did not differ just prior to the separations, but showed a more-rapid increase and then decline during both a second and third separation than during a first. Temperature responses were not associated with changes in motor activity. Depressive-like behavior was greater during the second and third separations. Pups separated a first time showed a larger plasma cortisol response at the conclusion of separation than did animals of the same age separated a third time. In all, the results indicate that the sensitization of depressive-like behavior during repeated separations over several days is accompanied by a more-rapid febrile response that may be related to a reduction of glucocorticoid suppression.