Adolescent stress and social experiences : developmental antecedents of adult behavioural responses to unfamiliar stimuli and the underlying neuroendocrine mechanisms
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During adolescence, animals leave the natal home and interact with potentially threatening stimuli (i.e. stressors), e.g. unfamiliar environments and conspecifics. Adolescent stressors can result in fewer interactions with unfamiliar stimuli in adulthood, plausibly due to sustained effects of glucocorticoid exposure on stress physiology (e.g. glucocorticoid secretion and receptor expression). The current thesis tested the hypothesis that adolescent glucocorticoid exposure and social experiences act as stressors by quantifying the effects of the adolescent experiences on behavioural responses to unfamiliar stimuli and the underlying neuroendocrine mechanisms when in adulthood using two captive species, zebra finches and rats. In study one, adolescent zebra finches were dosed with the glucocorticoid corticosterone. In adulthood, birds dosed with corticosterone in early adolescence took longer to enter an unfamiliar environment when tested individually and had lower expression of the glucocorticoid receptor GR in the hippocampus and hypothalamus, brain regions that regulate stress responses. Glucocorticoids therefore appear to be an endocrine mechanism behind the long-term effects of adolescent stress. Subsequent studies explored whether higher social density and more unfamiliar social interactions during adolescence act as stressors. In study two, early adolescent zebra finches were housed in groups varying in conspecific number and density. In adulthood, females raised in larger groups secreted a higher stressor-induced corticosterone concentration and, if raised at lower density, spent more time in an unfamiliar environment when group housed. In study three, adolescent female rats were housed in familiar pairs or exposed to unfamiliar conspecifics. Unfamiliar adolescent interactions had no effects on responses to unfamiliar environments or stress physiology in adulthood, but heightened ultrasonic call rates. In this thesis, adolescent social experiences do not act like stressors, but modulate (especially female) social behaviour. Adolescent stressors and social experiences therefore have distinct effects on responses to unfamiliar stimuli and stress physiology that are maintained into adulthood.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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