Behavioral responses to emotional challenges in female rats living in a seminatural environment: The role of estrogen receptors
Estrogen receptors (ERs) are involved in sexual as well as non-sexual behaviors. In the present study we assessed the effects of stimuli inducing positive or negative affect on sociosexual, exploratory and fear-related behaviors of female rats housed in groups (4 females, 3 males) in a seminatural environment. Ovariectomized females were treated with oil, 17β‑estradiol benzoate (EB, 18 μg/kg), the ERα agonist propylpyrazoletriol (PPT), or the ERβ agonist diarylpropionitrile (DPN) (both 2 × 10 mg/rat). On the test day, the females were exposed to a sequence of events consisting of lavender odor, Mozart's Sonata for Two Pianos K448, chocolate pellets, white noise and fox odor (2,3,5‑Trimethyl‑3‑thiazoline, TMT). All these events are known to induce positive or negative affect. Behavior was carefully observed from the video record. White noise suppressed sexual behaviors and reduced the time spent in the open area of the environment. TMT had no consistent effect whereas exposure to music caused avoidance of the open area. Exposure to chocolate increased exploratory and social behavior. Lavender odor enhanced exploratory behavior. PPT and EB stimulated sexual behaviors, whereas DPN was ineffective. Co-occurrence analyses of the sequence of behavioral patterns revealed that PPT and EB consistently belonged to clusters different from oil and DPN, whereas DPN was separate from oil only under fear-inducing experimental conditions. These data, from a procedure with external validity, confirm that the ERα is crucial for sexual behaviors, that these behaviors are reduced under stressful conditions, and that the ERβ may have some role in fear-related behaviors.
Submitted manuscript version. Published version available at https://doi.org/10.1016/j.yhbeh.2018.10.013.