Song, M. K., Lee, J. H., Kim, Y.-J. 2021. Effect of chronic handling and social isolation on emotion and cognition in adolescent rats. Physiology & Behavior 237, 113440.
Adolescence is a critical period of establishing social relations through social interactions that affect the emotional development associated with stress responses, anxiety, depression, and cognitive development. We investigated the behavioral and neurobiological changes induced by handling and social isolation in adolescent rats to determine social interaction effects. Rats were randomly divided into groups and used as a control, a handling [20 min a day, five times a week of gently touching the fur of each rat's face, neck, and dorsal surface], and a social isolation group. After 12 weeks, the handling group showed a significant increase in mobility in the open field test and in tryptophan hydroxylase expression in the dorsal raphe nucleus, as well as significantly reduced immobility times in the forced swim test, compared to the control group (p < 0.05). The social isolation group, in contrast, showed a significant increase in immobility times in the forced swim test and in glucocorticoid and SIRT1 expression in the hippocampus, as well as a significant reduction in mobility in the open field test and in escape latency times in the passive avoidance test, compared to the control group (p < 0.05). The present results show that while handling did not improve cognitive function, it reduced anxiety and lowered depression levels; social isolation, in contrast, significantly impaired the animals’ stress response, anxiety and depression levels, and cognitive function. Our findings indicate that handling and social isolation have a strong effect on adolescents' emotional and cognitive development into healthy adults.