There is a paucity of studies comparing social buffering in adolescents and adults, despite their marked differences in social behaviour. I investigated whether greater effects of social buffering on plasma corticosterone concentrations and expression of Zif268 in neural regions after an acute stressor would be found in adolescent compared with adult rats. Samples were obtained before and after one hour of isolation stress and after either one or three hours of recovery back in the colony with either a familiar or unfamiliar cage partner. Adolescent and adult rats did not differ in plasma concentrations of corticosterone at any time point. Corticosterone concentrations were higher after one hour isolation than at baseline (p < 0.001), and rats with a familiar partner during the recovery phase had lower corticosterone concentrations than did rats with an unfamiliar partner (p = 0.02). Zif268 immunoreactive cell counts were higher in the arcuate nucleus in both age groups after isolation (p = 0.007) and higher in the paraventricular nucleus of adolescents compared with adults during the recovery phase irrespective of partner familiarity. There was a significant decrease in immunoreactive cell counts after one hour isolation compared to baseline in the basolateral amygdala, central nucleus of the amygdala, and in the pyramidal layer of the hippocampus (all p < 0.05). An effect of partner familiarity on Zif268 immunoreactive cell counts was found in the granule layer of the dentate gyrus irrespective of age (higher in those with a familiar partner, p = 0.03) and in the medial prefrontal cortex in adolescents (higher with an unfamiliar partner, p = 0.02). Overall, the acute stress and partner familiarity produced a similar pattern of results in adolescents and adults, with both age groups sensitive to the social context.
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