• aversive coping;
  • depression model;
  • early deprivation;
  • Fischer rat;
  • non-handling


Depression is diagnosed on the basis of abnormal positive affects (anhedonia) and negative affects (low mood, helplessness, coping deficit, fatigue), and associated physiological abnormalities include hyperactivity of the HPA endocrine system and autonomic nervous system. Adverse early life environments, including parent–offspring emotional and physical neglect, are associated with traits of altered physiological and neurobiological function and long-term predisposition to depression. Animal studies based on early life adversity can potentially yield environmental models of the developmental behavioural neurobiology of depression. In Wistar rats, we demonstrated that isolation of pups from dam and littermates at room temperature for 4 h per day on P1–14 (early deprivation, ED) led to adulthood anhedonia-like traits of reduced motivation to obtain gustatory reward and reduced social motivation, relative to subjects left undisturbed during infancy (non-handling, NH). We hypothesized that the depression-like effects of ED would be even more pronounced and multiple in the stress hyper-responsive Fischer rat strain. The effects of ED were studied relative to NH and 15 min of daily isolation (early handling, EH). Relative to NH and EH, which exhibited remarkably similar phenotypes, ED led, principally in males, to chronic traits of: reduced motivation for and consumption of gustatory reward; increased activity in the pre-test and test phases of the forced swim test; reduced coping behaviour in an aversive environment; attenuated plasma corticosterone stress response to a normal plasma ACTH stress response; increased hypertensive response to a novel environment; and increased prefrontal cortical serotonin. High sensitivity to an aversive early environment in male Fischer rats therefore constitutes an important model for the study of affective development and its neurobiology.