Background: Differential rearing environments affect a number of behaviors displayed by rats in adulthood. For example, rats reared in an impoverished condition (IC; reared alone in hanging metal cages), social condition (SC; reared in standard shoebox cages, 2 per cage), or enriched condition (EC; reared in a large metal cage with bedding, 14 novel objects, and 10 cohorts) display clear differences in the amount of drug they consume and/or self-administer through operant responding. Animals reared in an EC consume greater amounts of ethanol compared with rats reared in an IC when provided free access, but it is not known how differential rearing conditions affect operant responding for ethanol.
Methods: Twenty-eight male Long-Evans rats were reared in 1 of 3 environments (IC, SC, or EC) during postnatal days 21 to 111. At the conclusion of the rearing period, all rats underwent sucrose/ethanol fading and then were tested for lever press responding for 10% ethanol as well as ethanol preference.
Results: Rats reared in an IC responded for 10% ethanol at significantly higher rates than SC and EC rats. A greater percentage of IC rats were able to switch lever responding when the ethanol availability was changed to a second lever. Lastly, the IC group was the only one to display a clear preference for 10% ethanol when both this fluid and water were available.
Conclusion: Rats reared in an IC show greater proclivity to respond operantly for 10% ethanol compared with rats raised in either SC or EC (which did not differ from each other). These findings agree with a number of studies that have shown isolate reared animals to consume greater amounts of ethanol compared with their socially reared counterparts yet contrast some studies showing EC animals consume greater amounts of ethanol than IC rats. The current findings illustrate that rearing environment also plays an important role in an animal’s proclivity to respond for ethanol.