Weaning age, social isolation, and gender, interact to determine adult explorative and social behavior, and dendritic and spine morphology in prefrontal cortex of rats

Behav Brain Res. 2007 Jun 18;180(2):174-82. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2007.03.011. Epub 2007 Mar 16.


We tested the effect of weaning at 21 or 30 days, followed by individual or group housing, on explorative and social behavior in adult male and female rats, and in males, on dendritic length and spine density in prefrontal cortex. In the open field, rats weaned early were the most active, while those weaned late and group housed were the most explorative. In the social interaction test, behavior in adult females was relatively impervious to weaning age or rearing condition. Isolated males sought out social interaction, whereas, group-reared males tended to avoid it. Social behaviors in males weaned early or group-reared correlated with decreased dendrite length and spine density, whereas, non-social behaviors correlated with increased dendritic length. Such changes are consistent with neural pruning in the development of social behavior. Although our experimental manipulations were mild, and serve as standard rearing conditions in many laboratories, their effects on brain and behavior were marked, and differed by gender. Early rearing conditions may have few appreciable effects when studied in isolation, but their interactive effects on adult social behavior are significant and varied.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Dendrites / ultrastructure*
  • Exploratory Behavior / physiology*
  • Female
  • Frontal Lobe / cytology*
  • Frontal Lobe / physiology*
  • Male
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Social Behavior*
  • Weaning*