Repeated victorious and defeat experiences induce similar apical dendritic spine remodeling in CA1 hippocampus of rats

Behav Brain Res. 2021 May 21:406:113243. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2021.113243. Epub 2021 Mar 13.


In this study, apical dendritic spine density of neurons in hippocampal, amygdalar and prefrontal cortical areas was compared in rats that were repeatedly winning or losing social conflicts. Territorial male wild-type Groningen (WTG) rats were allowed multiple daily attacks (>20 times) on intruder males in the resident-intruder paradigm. Frequent winning experiences are known to facilitate uncontrolled aggressive behavior reflected in aggressive attacks on anesthetized males which was also observed in the winners in this study. Both winners and losers were socially housed during the experiments; winners with females to stimulate territorial behavior, and losers with two other losing male rats. Twenty-four hours after the last social encounter, brains from experienced residential winners and repeatedly defeated intruder rats were collected and neuronal morphology in selected brain regions was studied via Golgi-Cox staining. Results indicate that spine density in the apical dendrites of the hippocampal CA1 reduced similarly in both winners and losers. In addition, winners showed increased spine densities at the proximal segments (20-30 μm) of the basolateral amygdala neurons and losers tended to show a decreased spine density at the more proximal segments of the infralimbic region of prefrontal cortex neurons. No effect of winning and losing was observed in the medial amygdala. The atrophic effect of repeated defeats in hippocampal and prefrontal regions was anticipated despite the fact that social housing of the repeatedly losing intruder males may have played a protective role. The reduction of hippocampal spine density in the winners seems surprising but supports previous findings in hierarchical dominant males in rat colonies. The dominants showed even greater shrinkage of the apical dendritic arbors of hippocampal CA3 pyramidal neurons compared to the stressed subordinates.

Keywords: Dendritic spine plasticity; Losing; Resident-intruder paradigm; Violence; Winning.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Basolateral Nuclear Complex / cytology
  • Basolateral Nuclear Complex / pathology
  • Basolateral Nuclear Complex / physiology
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • CA1 Region, Hippocampal* / cytology
  • CA1 Region, Hippocampal* / pathology
  • CA1 Region, Hippocampal* / physiology
  • Competitive Behavior*
  • Dendritic Spines* / pathology
  • Dendritic Spines* / physiology
  • Male
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / cytology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / pathology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology
  • Pyramidal Cells* / pathology
  • Pyramidal Cells* / physiology
  • Rats
  • Social Dominance*