In adolescence, gender differences in rates of affective disorders emerge. For both adolescent boys and girls, peer relationships are the primary source of life stressors though adolescent girls are more sensitive to such stressors. Social stressors are also powerful stressors for non-human social species like rodents. In a rat model, we examined how social isolation during adolescence impacts stress reactivity and specific neural substrates in adult male and female rats. Rats were isolated during adolescence by single housing from day 30 to 50 of age and control rats were group housed. On day 50, isolated rats and control rats were re-housed in same-treatment same-sex groups. Adult female rats isolated as adolescents exhibited increased adrenal responses to acute and to repeated stress and exhibited increased hypothalamic vasopressin mRNA and BDNF mRNA in the CA3 hippocampal subfield. In contrast, adult male rats isolated as adolescents exhibited a lower corticosterone response to acute stress, exhibited a reduced state of anxiety as assessed in the elevated plus maze and reduced Orexin mRNA compared to adult males group-housed as adolescents. These data point to a markedly different impact of isolation experienced in adolescence on endocrine and behavioral endpoints in males compared to females and identify specific neural substrates that may mediate the long-lasting effects of stress in adolescence.
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