Defensive aggregation (huddling) in Rattus Norvegicus toward predator odor: individual differences, social buffering effects and neural correlates

Michael T. Bowen, Richard C. Kevin, Matthew May, Lauren G. Staples, Glenn E. Hunt, Iain S. McGregor

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    30 Citations (Scopus)
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    Aggregation is a defensive strategy employed by many prey species in response to predatory threat. Our group has characterized defensive aggregation (huddling) in Rattus norvegicus in response to a ball of cat fur. In this situation some rats huddle less, and approach the threatening cue more than others (active vs. passive responders). The present study explored whether active responding is a stable phenotype associated with behaviors outside direct predatory encounters. The neural substrates of active and passive responding under predatory threat were explored using c-Fos immunohistochemistry. Finally, we examined whether the presence of conspecifics during predatory threat biases behavior towards active responding. Active and passive responding styles were found to be stable in individual rats across consecutive group exposures to cat fur, and were predicted by anxiety-like behavior in an open-field emergence test. Active responders displayed less conditioned fear in an environment associated with predatory threat, and had higher post-exposure intake of a weak sucrose solution (a test of "anhedonia"). Active responding was associated with: greater cat fur-induced activation of the accessory olfactory bulb, reflecting greater olfactory stimulation in rats actively approaching the fur; lowered activation of somatosensory cortex, reflecting reduced huddling with conspecifics; and reduced activation in the lateral septum. Social exposure to cat fur promoted active responding relative to individual exposure, and lowered c-Fos expression in the dorsomedial periaqueductal grey, medial caudate putamen and lateral habenula. We conclude that individual differences in anti-predator behavior appear stable traits with active responders having a more resilient phenotype. Social exposure to predatory threat has an acute buffering effect, subtly changing the neural and behavioral response towards threat and encouraging active responding. An association between active responding and lower c-Fos expression in the lateral septum is consistent with previous studies that highlight this region as an important neurobiological substrate of defensive aggregation.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article numbere68483
    Pages (from-to)1-15
    Number of pages15
    JournalPLoS ONE
    Issue number7
    Publication statusPublished - 29 Jul 2013

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    Copyright the Author(s) 2013. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


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