Steve Siviy was recently awarded a grant of $298,480 from the National Institutes of Health for a 3 year project titled “Early experiences, oxytocin, and dysfunctional play of the Fischer 344 rat”. This project will use an inbred rat strain (Fischer 344) that is uniquely lacking in play behavior to investigate the neurobehavioral mechanisms that may be responsible for the dysfunctional play of this strain.
The primary hypothesis to be tested is that the dysfunctional play of the Fischer 344 rat is due to a complex interaction between the genetic background of this strain and early post-natal and early juvenile social experiences.
This past summer, Caroline Garliss (’15) worked in Steve’s lab as the project got off the ground. She put the Lewis rats and Fischer 344 rats through a series of behavioral tests such as play and startle response. The results were to show the differences between the two strains or effects of a drug used.
Part of the project also involves testing the hypothesis that the lack of play in the Fischer 344 rat may be due to strain-dependent deficiencies in oxytocin functioning and that early social experiences can have an impact on oxytocin functioning. During the summer Caroline learned how to process and quantify oxytocin neurons in the brain and collected some baseline data from Fischer 344 rats when compared to the more playful Lewis strain. There was no significant difference between the number of oxytocin neurons so Caroline will be doing the same experiment this fall using female rats of the same strains. It has been documented that female rats do have a significant difference and Caroline is hopeful she will observe this difference by the end of the semester.