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Keywords:

  • Activity;
  • anxiety;
  • ethological analysis;
  • social interactions;
  • social recognition

Social recognition, processing, and retaining information about conspecific individuals is crucial for the development of normal social relationships. The neuropeptide oxytocin (OT) is necessary for social recognition in male and female mice, with its effects being modulated by estrogens in females. In previous studies, mice whose genes for the estrogen receptor-α (α-ERKO) and estrogen receptor-β (β-ERKO) as well as OTKO were knocked out failed to habituate to a repeatedly presented conspecific and to dishabituate when the familiar mouse is replaced by a novel animal (Choleris et al. 2003, Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 100, 6192–6197). However, a binary social discrimination assay, where animals are given a simultaneous choice between a familiar and a previously unknown individual, offers a more direct test of social recognition. Here, we used α-ERKO, β-ERKO, and OTKO female mice in the binary social discrimination paradigm. Differently from their wild-type controls, when given a choice, the KO mice showed either reduced (β-ERKO) or completely impaired (OTKO and α-ERKO) social discrimination. Detailed behavioral analyses indicate that all of the KO mice have reduced anxiety-related stretched approaches to the social stimulus with no overall impairment in horizontal and vertical activity, non-social investigation, and various other behaviors such as, self-grooming, digging, and inactivity. Therefore, the OT, ER-α, and ER-β genes are necessary, to different degrees, for social discrimination and, thus, for the modulation of social behavior (e.g. aggression, affiliation).