Central Oxytocin Alters Cortisol and Behavioral Responses of Guinea Pig Pups During Isolation in a Novel Environment

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The neuropeptide oxytocin plays key roles in social bonding and stress reduction, and thus appears to be a likely mediator of maternal buffering of infant stress responses. In the guinea pig, the presence of the mother in a threatening environment buffers cortisol elevations as well as active (vocalizing) and passive (e.g. crouching) responses typical of isolation in this species; yet, effects of OT in guinea pig pups under any conditions have not been reported. Here, we examined the ability of intracerebroventricular (ICV) OT to moderate plasma cortisol levels and behavior in guinea pig pups isolated in a brightly lit, novel environment, and the ability of a highly selective OT antagonist (OTA) to reduce buffering by the mother. We found that ICV OT moderated cortisol levels and vocalizations, but increased time spent in the crouched stance, particularly in females. In addition, OT modulated other ongoing behaviors in a sex-dependent fashion. In females, OT reduced duration of walking and rearing, and increased time spent quiet, while in males OT increased duration of rearing. OTA, however, was without effect on cortisol levels or behavior. These findings, including sex differences in response, extend results from other species to the guinea pig. Further, while demonstrating that exogenous OT is sufficient to reduce biobehavioral stress responses typical of isolated guinea pig infants, the results suggest that endogenous OT is not necessary for maternal buffering of infant responses in this species.



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