September 3, 2009

Prairie voles model parent-offspring bonds

U.S. primate researchers say they've used prairie voles as models in understanding early life parent-offspring nurturing impacts on later life relationships.

Yerkes National Primate Research Center scientists at Emory University said by influencing early social experience in prairie voles, they have gained greater insight into what aspects of early social experience drive diversity in adult social behavior.

Prairie voles are small, highly social, hamster-sized rodents that often form stable, life-long bonds between mates. In the wild, there is striking diversity in how offspring are reared. Some pups are reared by single mothers, some by both parents with the father providing much of the same care as the mother, and some in communal family groups.

Graduate Student Todd Ahern and Professor Larry Young compared pups raised by single mothers with pups raised by both parents to determine the effects of these types of early social environments on adult social behavior.

Our findings demonstrate that (the) "¦ animals experienced different levels of care during the neonatal period and that these differences significantly influenced bonding social behaviors in adulthood, Ahern reported.

Young said the findings suggest naturalistic variation in social rearing conditions can introduce diversity into adult nurturing and attachment behaviors. He noted the single mother-raised pups were slower to make life-long partnerships, and they showed less interest in nurturing pups in their communal families.

The study is detailed in the online edition of the journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience.