In mammals, maternal signals conveyed via influences on hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) activity may shape behavior of the young to be better adapted for prevailing environmental conditions. However, the mother's influence extends beyond classic stress response systems. In guinea pigs, several hours (h) of separation from the mother activates not only the HPA axis, but also the innate immune system, which effects immediate behavioral change, as well as modifies behavioral responsiveness in the future. Moreover, the presence of the mother potently suppresses the behavioral consequences of this innate immune activation. These findings raise the possibility that long-term adaptive behavioral change can be mediated by the mother's influence on immune-related activity of her pups. Furthermore, the impact of social partners on physiological stress responses and their behavioral outcomes are not limited to the infantile period. A particularly crucial period for social development in male guinea pigs is that surrounding the attainment of sexual maturation. At this time, social interactions with adults can dramatically affect circulating cortisol concentrations and social behavior in ways that appear to prepare the male to best cope in its likely future social environment. Despite such multiple social influences on the behavior of guinea pigs at different ages, inter-individual differences in the magnitude of the cortisol response remain surprisingly stable over most of the life span. Together, it appears that throughout the life span, physiological stress responses may be regulated by social stimuli. These influences are hypothesized to adjust behavior for predicted environmental conditions. In addition, stable individual differences might provide a means of facilitating adaptation to less predictable conditions.
Hennessy, M. B.,
& Sachser, N.
(2015). Stability and Change: Stress Responses and the Shaping of Behavioral Phenotypes over the Life Span. Frontiers in Zoology, 12 (S1), S18.