Impact of housing conditions on social behavior, neuroimmune markers, and oxytocin receptor expression in aged male and female Fischer 344 rats.


Behavioral Neuroscience Program, Department of Psychology, Binghamton University-SUNY, Binghamton, NY 13902-6000, United States of America. Electronic address: [Email]


Aging is associated with a substantial decline in social behavior, whereas positive social interaction can improve overall health in aged individuals. In laboratory rodents, manipulations of the social environment across the lifespan have been shown to affect social behavior. Therefore, we examined the effects of long-term (5-6 weeks) housing conditions (alone, with one adult, or with two adults) on social behavior and the expression of neuroinflammation-related genes as well as oxytocin receptor (OXTR) gene expression in brain areas associated with social behavior regulation in aged male and female Fischer (F) 344 rats. Single-housed males and females exhibited increased social investigation, relative to pair-housed rats (one aged and one adult). Triple-housed (one aged and two adults) aged males exhibited lower levels of social investigation, relative to triple-housed aged females. Aged females were more socially active that their male counterparts. Although social housing condition significantly affected social behavior in males, it had no impact on cytokine gene expression in the paraventricular nucleus of hypothalamus (PVN), bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST) or medial amygdala (MeA). However, in triple-housed aged females, who exhibited social behavior comparable to their single- and pair-housed counterparts, there was a significant increase in the expression of IL-1β and IL-6 mRNA in the MeA. No changes in cytokine gene expression were observed in the PVN or BNST, indicating that the increased expression of cytokines in the MeA was not a result of a generalized increase in neuroinflammation. Single-housed males and females exhibited elevated OXTR gene expression in the BNST. Taken together, these data indicate that manipulations of the social environment in late aging significantly influenced social interactions with a novel partner and gene expression in social behavior circuits and that these effects are sex-specific.