The effects of prenatal PCBs on adult social behavior in rats

Horm Behav. 2015 Jul;73:47-55. doi: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2015.06.002. Epub 2015 Jun 18.


Endocrine disrupting chemical (EDC) exposures during critical periods of development may influence neuronal development and the manifestation of sexually dimorphic sociability and social novelty behaviors in adulthood. In this study, we assessed the effects of gestational exposure to PCBs on the social behavior of males and females later in adulthood. A weakly estrogenic PCB mixture, Aroclor 1221 (A1221, 0.5 or 1mg/kg) was administered to pregnant Sprague-Dawley rat dams. Both a positive control (estradiol benzoate; EB, 50μg/kg) and negative control (dimethylsulfoxide; DMSO in sesame oil vehicle) were similarly administered to separate sets of dams. The sexes responded differently in two tasks essential to sociality. Using a three-chamber apparatus that contained a caged, same-sex, gonadectomized stimulus animal and an empty stimulus cage, we found that both sexes showed a strong preference for affiliating with a stimulus animal (vs. an empty cage), an effect that was much more pronounced in the males. In the second task, a novel and a familiar stimulus animal were caged at opposite ends of the same apparatus. Females displayed a higher degree of novelty preference than the males. During both tests, females had significantly higher social approach behaviors while male engaged in significantly more interactive behaviors with the conspecific. Of particular interest, males born of dams that received prenatal A1221 (0.5mg/kg) exhibited an overall decrease in nose-to-nose investigations. These behavioral data suggest that the males are more sensitive to A1221 treatment than are females. In addition to behavioral analysis, serum corticosterone was measured. Females born of dams treated with A1221 (0.5mg/kg) had significantly higher concentrations of corticosterone than the DMSO female group; males were unaffected. Females also had significantly higher corticosterone concentrations than did males. Overall, our results suggest that the effects of gestational exposure to PCBs on adult social behavior are relatively limited within this particular paradigm.

Keywords: A1221; Endocrine disrupting chemicals; Nose touching; Polychlorinated biphenyls; Sexual dimorphism; Sociability; Social memory; Social novelty; Social recognition; Three-chamber test.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Aroclors / toxicity
  • Behavior, Animal / drug effects*
  • Corticosterone / blood
  • Endocrine Disruptors / toxicity*
  • Estradiol / analogs & derivatives
  • Estradiol / toxicity
  • Exploratory Behavior / drug effects
  • Female
  • Male
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls / toxicity*
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / blood
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / chemically induced
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / psychology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Social Behavior*


  • Aroclors
  • Endocrine Disruptors
  • aroclor 1221
  • estradiol 3-benzoate
  • Estradiol
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls
  • Corticosterone