Adolescent Social Stress Increases Anxiety-like Behavior and Alters Synaptic Transmission, Without Influencing Nicotine Responses, in a Sex-Dependent Manner

Neuroscience. 2018 Mar 1;373:182-198. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2018.01.006. Epub 2018 Jan 16.


Early-life stress is a risk factor for comorbid anxiety and nicotine use. Because little is known about the factors underlying this comorbidity, we investigated the effects of adolescent stress on anxiety-like behavior and nicotine responses within individual animals. Adolescent male and female C57BL/6J mice were exposed to chronic variable social stress (CVSS; repeated cycles of social isolation + social reorganization) or control conditions from postnatal days (PND) 25-59. Anxiety-like behavior and social avoidance were measured in the elevated plus-maze (PND 61-65) and social approach-avoidance test (Experiment 1: PND 140-144; Experiment 2: 95-97), respectively. Acute nicotine-induced locomotor, hypothermic, corticosterone responses, (Experiment 1: PND 56-59; Experiment 2: PND 65-70) and voluntary oral nicotine consumption (Experiment 1: PND 116-135; Experiment 2: 73-92) were also examined. Finally, we assessed prefrontal cortex (PFC) and nucleus accumbens (NAC) synaptic transmission (PND 64-80); brain regions that are implicated in anxiety and addiction. Mice exposed to adolescent CVSS displayed increased anxiety-like behavior relative to controls. Further, CVSS altered synaptic excitability in PFC and NAC neurons in a sex-specific manner. For males, CVSS decreased the amplitude and frequency of spontaneous excitatory postsynaptic currents in the PFC and NAC, respectively. In females, CVSS decreased the amplitude of spontaneous inhibitory postsynaptic currents in the NAC. Adolescent CVSS did not affect social avoidance or nicotine responses and anxiety-like behavior was not reliably associated with nicotine responses within individual animals. Taken together, complex interactions between PFC and NAC function may contribute to adolescent stress-induced anxiety-like behavior without influencing nicotine responses.

Keywords: adolescence; anxiety; nicotine; nucleus accumbens; prefrontal cortex; social stress.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anxiety / etiology
  • Anxiety / physiopathology*
  • Avoidance Learning / drug effects
  • Avoidance Learning / physiology
  • Behavior, Animal / drug effects
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Brain / drug effects
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Female
  • Male
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Motor Activity / drug effects
  • Motor Activity / physiology
  • Neurons / drug effects
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Nicotine / pharmacology*
  • Nicotinic Agonists / pharmacology*
  • Random Allocation
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Sexual Maturation
  • Social Behavior
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology*
  • Synaptic Transmission / drug effects
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology*
  • Tissue Culture Techniques


  • Nicotinic Agonists
  • Nicotine