Children of depressed parents exhibit high rates of emotion-dysregulation, characterized by excessive withdrawal or approach strategies toward the mother in infancy. The understanding of factors affecting the establishment of these behavioral deficits is limited. The current study utilized two genetic animal models of depression, the Wistar-Kyoto (WKY) and Flinders Sensitive Line (FSL) rat strains. In addition, in order to assess the interactive effects of depressive vulnerability and exposure to early life stress, the subjects were raised either in a standard rearing condition or exposed to mild chronic-stress on postnatal days (PND) 2-9. On PND 10-11, an isolation test examined the pups' emotion-regulation. WKY pups produced less separation-induced ultrasonic vocalizations (USV) and proximity-seeking behaviors, compared to controls. In addition, WKY pups did not show the expected potentiation effect that was evident in control pups (an increase in USV and pivoting behavior after a short reunion with the dam). FSL pups exhibited less proximity-seeking behaviors compared to controls while showing levels of USV, potentiation of USV, and change in proximity-seeking behaviors that were similar to controls. No differences between the strains were found in self-grooming. The early life chronic-stress paradigm had no effect on the behaviors of the pups, indicating either stress-resilience or a limited effect of the paradigm. Overall, the results tentatively imply a tendency of the WKY and FSL pups towards withdrawal behavior instead of approach-behavior when regulating emotion, with a more pronounced pattern in WKY pups. This behavioral profile is reminiscent of avoidant attachment, a characteristic of many children of depressed parents.
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