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Keywords:

  • Stress;
  • Addiction Vulnerability;
  • Adolescence;
  • Sex Differences

Background

Clinically, early life stress and anxiety disorders are associated with increased vulnerability for alcohol use disorders. In male rats, early life stress, imparted by adolescent social isolation, results in long-lasting increases in a number of behavioral risk factors for alcoholism, including greater anxiety-like behaviors and ethanol (EtOH) intake. Several recent studies have begun to use this model to gain insight into the relationships among anxiety measures, stress, EtOH intake, and neurobiological correlates driving these behaviors. As prior research has noted significant sex differences in the impact of adolescent stress on anxiety measures and EtOH drinking, the current study was conducted to determine if this same model produces an “addiction vulnerable” phenotype in female rodents.

Methods

Female Long Evans rats were socially isolated (SI; 1/cage) or group housed (GH; 4/cage) for 6 weeks during adolescence. After this housing manipulation, behavioral assessment was conducted using the elevated plus maze, response to novelty in an open field environment, and the light/dark box. After behavioral testing, home cage EtOH drinking was assessed across an 8-week period.

Results

No group differences were detected in any of the behavioral measures of unconditioned anxiety-like behavior. Greater EtOH intake and preference were observed in SI females but these differences did not persist.

Conclusions

The SI/GH model, which results in robust and enduring increases in anxiety measures and EtOH self-administration in male Long Evans rats, did not result in similar behavioral changes in female rats. These data, and that of others, suggest that adolescent social isolation is not a useful model with which to study neurobiological substrates linking antecedent anxiety and addiction vulnerability in female rats. Given the compelling epidemiological evidence that the relationship between chronic adolescent stress and alcohol addiction is particularly strong in women, there is clearly an urgent need to identify a more effective model with which to study these clinically important relationships in female rodents.