Several effects of neonatal handling on brain and behavior have been reported. We investigated the effects of neonatal handling on behaviors that have been shown to be sexually dimorphic in rats using an open-field test. "Gender differences" were observed in locomotor activity, exploratory behavior and grooming in the handled group. However, clear gender differences in these behaviors were not observed in the non-handled group. Our findings show that brief daily handling sessions (∼ 1 min) in the first 2 weeks of postnatal life increased locomotor activity and exploratory behavior, and that these effects were more pronounced in females. Moreover, many rats in the non-handling group exhibited an increase in defecation relative to the handling group during the 10-min observation period. This suggests that the non-handling group experienced more stress in response to the novel open-field arena, and that this resulted in the absence of gender differences. Notably, this anxiety-related response was attenuated by neonatal handling. Our study underscores the impact of brief neonatal handling on sexually dimorphic behaviors, and indicates that caution should be exercised in controlling for the effects of handling between experimental groups, particularly in neurotoxicological studies that evaluate gender differences.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes