Rationale and objective: The presence of three conspecifics prevents stress-induced decreases in newly proliferated cells and neuroblasts in mouse dentate gyrus (DG). In this study, we sought to determine how many conspecifics are required to exert these protective effects against stress. In addition, we manipulated the physiological status of those conspecifics in the context of their stress-buffering effects and used airborne oxytocin exposure as a substitute for the presence of conspecifics. Materials and methods: Bromodeoxyuridine staining was used to indicate the newly proliferated cells and co-staining with doublecortin to reveal the proliferative neuroblasts. Results: Presentation of three intact and lipopolysaccharide-treated conspecifics prevented the stress-induced decreases in the number of newly proliferated cells and neuroblasts in DG. Presentation of one saline- or oxytocin (OT)–treated conspecific did not exert observable stress-buffering effects. In contrast, airborne oxytocin prevented the stress-induced decreases in DG cell proliferation and early neurogenesis, while pretreatment with L-371,257, a selective OT receptor antagonist, abolished the buffering effects of OT. Conclusions: Physical interaction with the conspecifics and conspecifics’ sickness, at best, play a minor role in mediating the buffering effects against stress-induced decreases in DG cell proliferation or early neurogenesis. Moreover, stress-buffering effects are negligible with the presence of only one conspecific. Finally, airborne OT produced stress-buffering effects possibly via its stimulation of OT receptors. Oxytocin merits further study as a substitute for the stress-buffering effects of companions.
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