Although the involvement of the neuropeptide arginine vasopressin (AVP) in rodent social interaction is already extensively characterized, little is known about its role in social communication. Rats communicate in the ultrasonic range by means of ultrasonic vocalizations (USV). Depending on developmental stage and affective state, rats emit various distinct types of USV, with appetitive 50-kHz USV being induced by positive social interactions, like juvenile social play, probably serving an affiliative communicative function, namely to (re)establish or induce social proximity. In rats and mice selectively bred for low (LAB) and high (HAB) anxiety-related behavior, the emission of isolation-induced distress USV during maternal deprivation as pups correlates with innate high levels of hypothalamic AVP availability. Moreover, male LAB and HAB rats express deficits in social approach towards conspecifics, together with high and/or abnormal forms of aggression when confronted with harmless opponents, possibly due to a lack of social communication skills. The aim of this study was therefore (1) to investigate and characterize social play behavior and concomitant pro-social 50-kHz USV emission in male and female, juvenile LAB and HAB rats and to compare them to non-selected Wistar (NAB) rats; and (2) to link these findings pharmacologically to the central AVP system via applying an AVP 1a receptor (V1aR) antagonist (0.75 μg; Manning compound) or synthetic AVP (1 ng) into the lateral ventricle of male juvenile NAB rats. Our results show that reduced social play behavior in highly anxious male and female, juvenile HAB rats is accompanied by low amounts of pro-social 50-kHz USV, as compared to respective LAB and NAB rats, possibly reflecting a lack of positive affective states in expectation of or following social interactions in these individuals. Secondly, although synthetic AVP did not alter social play behavior and pro-social 50-kHz USV, we demonstrated for the first time that a blockade of the central AVP system not only reduces juvenile social play behavior, but at the same time pro-social 50-kHz USV emission rates, indicating an involvement of the social neuropeptide in regulating affiliative communication in rodents.
Keywords: Affiliative Behavior; Autism; Communication; Play Fighting; Rough-and-tumble Play; V1a receptor.
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