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Social relationships among spouses, family members, and friends are known to affect physical and mental health. In particular, long-lasting bonds between socio-sexual partners have profound effects on cognitive, social, emotional, and physical well-being. We have previously reported that pair bonding in monogamous prairie voles (Microtus ochrogaster) is prevented by a single prolonged stress (SPS) paradigm, which causes behavioral and endocrine symptoms resembling post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) patients in rats (Arai et al., 2016). Since fear memory function is crucial for anxiety-related disorders such as PTSD, we investigated the effects of pair bonding on fear learning in prairie voles. We applied an SPS paradigm to male prairie voles after the cohabitation with a male (cage-mate group) or female (pair-bonded group). The cage-mate group, but not the pair-bonded group, showed enhanced fear response in a contextual fear conditioning test following the SPS treatment. Immunohistochemical analyses revealed that cFos-positive cells in the central amygdala were increased in the pair-bonded group after the contextual fear conditioning test and that oxytocin immunoreactivity in the paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus was significantly higher in the pair-bonded group than the cage-mate group. This pair-bonding dependent blunting of fear memory response was confirmed by a passive avoidance test, another fear-based learning test. Interestingly, intracerebroventricular injection of an oxytocin receptor antagonist 30 min before the passive avoidance test blocked the blunting effect of pair bonding on fear learning. Thus, pair bonding between socio-sexual partners results in social buffering in the absence of the partner, blunting fear learning, which may be mediated by oxytocin signaling.
This article was published in the following journal.
Name: Hormones and behavior
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