This experiment sought to identify the extent housing conditions can differentially enhance or dampen the effects chronic restraint stress has on exploration and object memory in male and female rats. Subjects were either pair- or singly housed during stress (21 days of 6-h restraint) and maintained under those conditions during poststress behavior testing (7 days). Neurochemical analysis of neural tissue was accomplished by HPLC with electrochemical detection. Interactions between stress and housing conditions were found across both sexes. Stress was associated with less activity in the center of the forced open-field in both sexes. Stress also decreased the latency for males to enter the free open-field to female levels. Object recognition was greatly impaired in double-housed males but unaffected by stress or housing in females. Object location memory was impaired in stressed males if they were singly housed, and females performed as well as control males only if they were stressed. Both sexes generally showed increased in hippocampal (CA3) norepinephrine levels in their respective stress groups. Singly housed subjects had higher CA1 serotonin levels compared to double-housed subjects, whereas in the prefrontal cortex, a general sex difference was found with females having higher levels of serotonin and dopamine metabolites. These results show that stress affects limbic neurochemistry across sex, although only males exhibit stress-dependent decrements in object memory. Housing condition also has a profound effect on neurochemistry and male performance on object recognition. Thus, housing condition is a critical variable for male models of stress that can influence the extent the stress manipulation affects behavior. The differences observed across sex are further discussed in the context of behavioral inhibition.
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