Hori, M., Yamada, K., Ohnishi, J. et al. 2014. Tickling during adolescence alters fear-related and cognitive behaviors in rats after prolonged isolation. Physiology & Behavior 131, 62-67.

Social interactions during adolescence are important especially for neuronal development and behavior. We recently showed that positive emotions induced by repeated tickling could modulate fear-related behaviors and sympatho-adrenal stress responses. In the present study, we examined whether tickling during early to late adolescence stage could reverse stress vulnerability induced by socially isolated rearing. Ninety-five male Fischer rats were reared under different conditions from postnatal day (PND) 21 to 53: group-housed (three rats/cage), isolated-nontickled (one rat/cage) and isolated-tickled (received tickling stimulation for 5min a day). Auditory fear conditioning was then performed on the rats at PND 54. Isolated-tickled rats exhibited significantly lower freezing compared with group-housed rats in the first retention test performed 48h after conditioning and compared with isolated-nontickled rats in the second retention test performed 96h after conditioning. Moreover, group-housed and isolated-tickled rats tended to show a significant decrease in freezing responses in the second retention test; however, isolated-nontickled rats did not. In the Morris water maze task that was trained in adulthood (PND 88), but not in adolescence (PND 56), isolated-nontickled rats showed slower decrease of escape latency compared to group-housed rats; however, tickling treatment significantly improved this deficit. These results suggest that tickling stimulation can alleviate the detrimental effects of isolated rearing during adolescence on fear responses and spatial learning.

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