The Roman-Low (RLA) and High-Avoidance (RHA) rat strains have been bidirectionally selected and bred, respectively, for extremely poor vs. rapid acquisition of the two-way active avoidance task. Over 50 years of selective breeding have led to two strains displaying many differential specific phenotypes. While RLAs display anxious-related behaviours, RHA rats show impulsivity, and schizophrenia-like positive and cognitive symptoms or phenotypes. Neonatal handling (NH) is an environmental treatment with long-lasting anxiolytic-like and anti-stress effects. NH also reduces symptoms related to schizophrenia, such as pre-pulse inhibition (PPI) impairment and latent inhibition (LI) deficits, and improves spatial working memory and cognitive flexibility. The present work was aimed at exploring whether RHAs also display negative schizophrenia-like symptoms (or phenotypes), such as lowered preference for social interaction (i.e. asociality), and whether NH would reduce these deficits. To this aim, we evaluated naïve inbred RHA and RLA rats in a social interaction (SI) test after either long- or short-term habituation to the testing set up (studies 1-2). In Study 3 we tested untreated and NH-treated RHA and RLA rats in novel object exploration (NOE) and SI tests. Compared with RHAs, RLA rats displayed increased anxiety-related behaviours in the NOE (i.e. higher behavioural inhibition, lesser exploration of the novel object) and SI (i.e. higher levels of self-grooming) tests which were dramatically reduced by NH treatment, thus supporting the long-lasting anxiolytic-like effect of NH. Remarkably, RHA rats showed decreased social preference in the SI test compared with RLAs, evidencing that RHAs would present a relative asociality, which is thought to model some negative symptomatology (i.e. social withdrawal) of schizophrenia. NH increased absolute levels of social behaviour in both strains, but with a more marked effect in RHA rats, especially in the first 5 min of the SI test. Thus, it is hypothesized that, apart from its effects on anxiety-related behaviours, NH might have long-lasting positive effects on behavioural and neurobiological processes that are impaired in schizophrenia.
|Publication status||Published - Jul 2021|