Fostered Offspring Develop Hyper-Reactive Endocrine Stress Responses In A Plural-Breeding Rodent, Octodon degus

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General And Comparative Endocrinology


Long-term parental separation can lead to altered behavioral and physical development in human children. Rodent models are popular for studying parent–child separation, and several studies have found that maternal separation leads to chronic changes in the endocrine stress response. However, while human children are generally raised by multiple caregivers, most rodent studies utilize solitary breeding species. Therefore, we used degus (Octodon degus) as a model for studying human parental separation, as these rodents practice plural breeding and communal care. In this study, we cross-fostered degu litters at different ages (post-natal day [PND] 2, 8, and 14) to test the hypotheses that fostering affects offspring stress hormone levels in both the short- and long-term and that these impacts differ depending on the age at which offspring are fostered. We found that fostering had long-term effects, as fostered offspring had higher stress-induced cortisol levels and weaker cortisol negative feedback than non-fostered offspring at weaning age (PND28). We also found that the timing of fostering mattered, as degus fostered at PND8 had higher baseline cortisol levels the day after fostering, while degus fostered at PND2 had higher stress-induced cortisol levels at weaning. These data suggest that long-term cross-fostering has enduring impacts on the endocrine stress response in degus, therefore making them a useful model organism for investigating impacts of parental separation in humans.


Communal care, Cortisol, Glucocorticoid, HPA-axis, Maternal separation, Parental separation

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