We previously reported that in the adult animal extinction in pairs resulted in enhanced extinction, showing that social presence can reduce previously acquired fear responses. Based on our findings that juvenile and adult animals differ in the mechanisms of extinction, here we address whether the social presence of a conspecific affects extinction in juvenile animals similarly to adults. We further address whether such presence has a different impact on juvenile males and females. To that end, we examined in our established experimental setting whether conditioned male and female animals extinguish contextual fear memory better while in pairs. Taking advantage of the role of oxytocin (OT) in the mediation of extinction memory and social interaction, we also study the effect of antagonizing the OT receptors (OTR) either systemically or in the prefrontal cortex on social interaction-induced effects of fear extinction. The results show that social presence accelerates extinction in males and females as compared to the single condition. Yet, we show differential and opposing effects of an OTR antagonist in both sexes. Whereas in females, the systemic application of an OTR antagonist is associated with impaired extinction, it is associated with enhanced extinction in males. In contrast, prefrontal OT is not engaged in extinction in juvenile males, while is it is critical in females. Previously reported differences in the levels of prefrontal OT between males and females might explain the differences in OT action. These results suggest that even during the juvenile period, critical mechanisms are differently involved in the regulation of fear in males and females.
Bibliographical notePublisher Copyright:
© 2020, The Author(s).
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Psychiatry and Mental health
- Biological Psychiatry
- Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience