Stressful social experiences during early-life can increase the risk of developing neuropsychiatric disorders associated with anxiety, mood, and personality. Early neglect also alters peripheral arginine vasopression (AVP) and oxytocin (OXT). We hypothesized that a lack of social stimuli should adversely affect developmental AVP and OXT systems. To test this idea, we examined changes of central AVP- and OXT-immunoreactive (ir) cell number as well as its related behaviors in socially isolated rats. Animals were weaned at 23 days of age, divided into group- or isolation-reared conditions, and maintained for at least 2 weeks. At 38-48 days of age, animals were sacrificed for immunohistochemistry, or used for two behavioral tests: elevated plus-maze test and social recognition test. The results from immunohistochemistry showed that isolation-reared males have decreased AVP-ir cells in the paraventricular nucleus hypothalamus (PVH), medial parvicellular part, ventral zone, and that isolation-reared females have decreased OXT-ir cells in the PVH, medial parvicellular part, dorsal zone, when compared with group-reared counterparts. The results from behavioral assessment showed that isolation-reared animals have difficulty with social recognition, and that isolation-reared males, but not females, have anxiogenic profile. The present study demonstrates that post-weaning social isolation results in decrease of male AVP-ir cells and female OXT-ir cells in the PVH parvocellular divisions, and supports the idea that juvenile social environment may play a critical role in neuronal and behavioral development. © 2010 IBRO.
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