Roman high-(RHA/Verh) and low-(RLA/Verh) avoidance rats, originally selected and bred for rapid vs poor acquisition of a two-way active avoidance response, differ in emotional reactivity and coping style. These differences are associated with particular neuroendocrine and neurochemical characteristics. New data are presented here to show that the behavioural changes specifically induced by neonatal handling, i.e. decreased emotional reactivity, are associated with marked changes in the neuroendocrine responses of (hyperemotional) RLA/Verh rats to a novel environment. Eight months after neonatal handling, self-grooming behaviour, a reliable marker of emotional reactivity in this line of rats, was significantly decreased in RLA/Verh rats. Defecation scores were also significantly reduced in both lines. Moreover, there was a significant reduction in prolactin and corticosterone release following exposure to a novel environment in neonatally-handled RLA/Verh rats as compared to control, non-handled rats. No effects on prolactin and corticosterone release were observed in RHA/Verh rats. There was also no apparent effect of neonatal handling on coping style i.e. RLA/Verh rats did not increase their spontaneous exploration of novel environments. Thus, the phenotypic expression of basic traits of (high) neuroendocrine/emotional reactivity was specifically modulated by neonatal handling in RLA/Verh rats, whereas both the (hypoemotional) RHA/Verh rats as well as coping style in both lines remained unaffected. Changes in emotional reactivity were still apparent at 12 months of age when rats from the same groups were tested for hyponeophagia. These results suggest that psychogenetically selected lines such as RHA/RLA rats are suitable animal models to investigate interactions between genes and the environment in determining individual sensitivity to stress and coping styles, as well as potential vulnerability (or resistance) to the development of maladaptive syndromes similar to anxiety and mood disorders in humans.
|Journal||International Journal of Developmental Neuroscience|
|Publication status||Published - 1 Jun 1998|
- Coding style
- Genetic selection
- Neonatal handling
- RHA/Verh-RLA/Verh rats