Social play in juvenile hamsters alters dendritic morphology in the medial prefrontal cortex and attenuates effects of social stress in adulthood

Behav Neurosci. 2016 Aug;130(4):437-47. doi: 10.1037/bne0000148. Epub 2016 May 12.


Social play is a fundamental aspect of behavioral development in many species. Social play deprivation in rats alters dendritic morphology in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) and we have shown that this brain region regulates responses to social defeat stress in Syrian hamsters. In this study, we tested whether play deprivation during the juvenile period disrupts dendritic morphology in the prefrontal cortex and potentiates the effects of social defeat stress. At weaning, male hamsters were either group-housed with peers or pair-housed with their mother, with whom they do not play. In adulthood, animals received acute social defeat stress or no-defeat control treatment. The hamsters were then tested for a conditioned defeat response in a social interaction test with a novel intruder, and were also tested for social avoidance of a familiar opponent. Brains were collected for Golgi-Cox staining and analysis of dendritic morphology in the infralimbic (IL), prelimbic (PL), and orbitofrontal cortex (OFC). Play-deprived animals showed an increased conditioned defeat response and elevated avoidance of a familiar opponent compared with play-exposed animals. Furthermore, play-deprived animals showed increased total length and branch points in apical dendrites of pyramidal neurons in the IL and PL cortices, but not in the OFC. These findings suggest that social play deprivation in juvenile hamsters disrupts neuronal development in the vmPFC and increases vulnerability to the effects of social stress in adulthood. Overall, these results suggest that social play is necessary for the natural dendritic pruning process during adolescence and promotes coping with stress in adulthood. (PsycINFO Database Record

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain
  • Dendrites / physiology
  • Female
  • Male
  • Mesocricetus*
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Social Behavior*