Vicarious learning represents a far-reaching value for the survival of social animals. Adrenal hormones are known to affect many forms of learning, yet the roles of adrenal hormones in vicarious learning remain unexplored. This study was undertaken to assess whether observation-stimulated corticosterone (CORT) secretion may affect the magnitude of a vicarious fear conditioning. Mouse observers were individually subjected to an observational compartment next to the training compartment wherein three their cage-mate demonstrators received (1) 5 days of 15 randomly-scheduled footshocks (0.5 mA, 2 s in duration over a 30 min session) (G1); (2) a 30-min presentation of vanilla odors (G2); or (3) footshock delivery and vanilla odors in combination (G3). Demonstrator mice receiving G3 training session and their respective observer mice were found to exhibit greater training-induced and slightly greater observation-stimulated CORT secretion, greater vanilla odors-induced fear responses (FR) and conditioned place aversion (CPA), as compared with the observers vicariously learning from demonstrators receiving G1 or G2 sessions. Observers held in their home cages during demonstrators’ trainings and those receiving null demonstrator (No Demonstrator) failed to exhibit vanilla odors-induced FR. Moreover, observers undergoing adrenalectomy (ADX) and G3 sessions exhibited lower vanilla odors-induced FR and CPA as compared to sham surgical (Sham) observers observing G3 sessions. Furthermore, systemic metyrapone injections (50 and 100 mg/kg) prior to daily vicarious G3 training session resulted in decreases in vanilla odors-induced FR and CPA magnitudes in observers. Finally, CORT (1 mg/kg)-pretreated G2 observers failed to display odors-induced FR escalation. These results, taken together, suggest that observation-stimulated CORT secretion is necessary for reliable establishment of vicarious fear conditioning in observer mice.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
- Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
- Psychiatry and Mental health
- Biological Psychiatry