Translational relevance of rodent models of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal function and stressors in adolescence
Studies in animal models generate and test hypotheses regarding developmental stage-specific vulnerability that might inform research questions about human development. In both rats and humans, peer relationships are qualitatively different in adolescence than at other stages of development, and social experiences in adolescence are considered important determinants of adult social function. This review describes our adolescent rat social instability stress model and the long-lasting effects social instability has on social behaviour in adulthood as well as the possible neural underpinnings. Effects of other adolescent social stress experiences in rats on social behaviours in adulthood also are reviewed. We discuss the role of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) function and glucocorticoid release in conferring differential susceptibility to social experiences in adolescents compared to adults. We propose that although differential perception of social experiences rather than immature HPA function may underlie the heightened vulnerability of adolescents to social instability, the changes in the trajectory of brain development and resultant social deficits likely are mediated by the heightened glucocorticoid release in response to repeated social stressors in adolescence compared to in adulthood.