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Access Type

Open Access

Degree Program

Neuroscience & Behavior

Degree Type

Master of Science (M.S.)

Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded



Parental Behavior, Prairie Vole, Emotionality, Partner Preference, Stress Response


The prairie vole (Microtus ochrogaster), a highly social species, offers a unique opportunity to examine the effects of parent-pup separation in a biparental family system similar to humans. We hypothesized that 1) repeated separation from pups affects parental behavior and emotionality in parents, and 2) neonatal parental separation affects emotional and physiological development in pups, and thus induces altered adult parental, emotional, and social behaviors. During postnatal day (PND) 1-10, pups were removed from their parents for 0, 15, or 360 min and housed either individually or with siblings. Unhandled controls experienced only daily lid opening. Tests for parental responsiveness and emotionality were conducted on PND11 for parents and PND90-92 for their offspring. Emotionality tests included the elevated plus maze, open field, and forced swim tests. Starting at PND150, half of each litter was paired with an opposite-sex vole for 24 hours and tested for partner preference. Additionally, behavioral response to stress was measured in all animals 0, 30, or 60 min after exposure to a forced swim. Generally, the behavior of the parents and adult offspring was influenced by daily handling, the length of the separation, and presence of siblings. Parental behaviors in parents did not differ among groups, while their anxiety- and depression-like behaviors were influenced by pup separation. For the adult offspring, separation treatment altered parental behavior, emotionality, partner preference, and stress response. Our results demonstrated that parent-pup separation affects emotional and social behaviors in prairie vole parents and adult offspring.

First Advisor

UnJa L Hayes