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Female oxytocin gene-knockout mice, in a semi-natural environment, display exaggerated aggressive behavior

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Compared to results from a generation of neuropharmacological work, the phenotype of mice lacking the oxytocin (OT) peptide gene was remarkably normal. An important component of the current experiments was to assay OT-knockout (OTKO) and wild-type (WT) littermate control mice living under controlled stressful conditions designed to mimic more closely the environment for which the mouse genome evolved. Furthermore, our experimental group was comprised of an all-female population, in contrast to previous studies which have focused on all-male populations. Our data indicated that aggressive behaviors initiated by OTKO during a food deprivation feeding challenge were considerably more intense and diverse than aggressive behaviors initiated by WT. From the measures of continuous social interaction in the intruder paradigm, it emerged that OTKO mice were more offensively aggressive (attacking rumps and tails) than WT. In a test of parental behaviors, OTKO mice were 100% infanticidal while WT were 16% infanticidal and 50% maternal. Finally, ‘alpha females’ (always OTKO) were identified in each experiment. They were the most aggressive, the first to feed and the most dominant at nesting behaviors. Semi-natural environments are excellent testing environments for elucidating behavioral differences between transgenic mice and their WT littermates which may not be ordinarily discernible. Future studies of mouse group behavior should include examining female groupings in addition to the more usual all-male groups.
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Keywords: Aggression; female oxytocin knockout; semi- natural environment; sexual behavior; stress; transgenic

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Laboratory of Neurobiology & Behavior, The Rockefeller University, New York, NY, and 2: Department of Pediatrics, Washington University School of Medicine, St Louis, MO, USA

Publication date: June 1, 2005

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