Adolescence is characterized by high levels of playful social interaction, cognitive development, and increased risk-taking behavior. Juvenile exposure to social isolation or social stress can reduce myelin content in the frontal cortex, alter neuronal excitability, and disrupt hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis function. As compared to group housed animals, social isolation increases anxiety-like phenotypes and reduces social and cognitive performance in adulthood. We designed a neighbor housing environment to alleviate issues related to social isolation that still allowed individual homecages. Neighbor housing consists of four standard mouse cages fused together with semi-permeable ports that allow visual, olfactory, and limited social contact between mice. Adolescent C57BL/6J males and females were group housed (4/cage), single housed (1/cage), or neighbor housed (4/complex). As adults, mice were tested for social, anxiety-like, and cognitive behaviors. Living in this neighbor environment reduced anxiety-like behavior in the social interaction task and in the light-dark task. It also rescued cognitive deficits from single housing in the novel object recognition task. These data suggest that neighbor housing may partially ameliorate the social anxiety and cognitive deficits induced by social isolation. These neighbor cage environments may serve as a conduit by which researchers can house mice in individual cages while still enabling limited social interactions to better model typical adolescent development.
Keywords: adolescence; anxiety-like behavior; recognition memory; social interaction; social isolation.