Separation Increases Passive Stress-Coping Behaviors During Forced Swim and Alters Hippocampal Dendritic Morphology in California Mice
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Individuals within monogamous species form bonds that may buffer against the negative effects of stress on physiology and behavior. In some species, involuntary termination of the mother-offspring bond results in increased symptoms of negative affect in the mother, suggesting that the parent-offspring bond may be equally as important as the pair bond. To our knowledge, the extent to which affect in paternal rodents is altered by involuntary termination of the father-offspring bond is currently unknown. Here, we investigated to what extent separation and paternal experience alters passive stress-coping behaviors and dendritic morphology in hippocampal subfields of California mice (Peromyscus californicus). Irrespective of paternal experience, separated mice displayed shorter latencies to the first bout of immobility, longer durations of immobility, and more bouts of immobility than control (non-separated) mice. This effect of separation was exacerbated by paternal experience in some measures of behavioral despair - separation from offspring further decreased the latency to immobility and increased bouts of immobility. In the dentate gyrus, separation reduced dendritic spine density regardless of paternal experience. Increased spine density was observed on CA1 basal, but not apical, dendrites following paternal experience. Regardless of offspring presence, fatherhood was associated with reduced apical dendritic spine density in area CA3 of the hippocampus. Separation enhanced complexity of both basal and apical dendrites in CA1, while fatherhood reduced dendritic complexity in this region. Our data suggest that forced dissolution of the pair bond induces passive stress-coping behaviors and contributes to region-specific alterations in hippocampal structure in California mouse males.