Stressful events in an early postnatal period have critical implications for the individual's life and can increase later risk for psychiatric disorders. The aim of this study was to investigate the influence of early-life stress on the social behavior of adult male and female mice. C57Bl/6 mice were exposed to maternal separation (MS, 3 h once a day) or handling (HD, 15 min once a day) on postnatal day 2 through 14. Adult male and female mice were tested for social behavior in the social interaction test and for individual behavior in the plus-maze and open-field tests. Female mice exposed to maternal separation had increased social behavior and increased anxiety. MS male mice had no changes in social behavior but had significantly disrupted individual behavior, including locomotor and exploratory activity. Handling had positive effects on social behavior in males and females and decreased anxiety in males. Our results support the hypothesis that brief separation of pups from their mothers (handling), which can be considered as moderate stress, may result in future positive changes in behavior. Maternal separation has deleterious effects on individual behavior and significant sex-specific effects on social behavior.
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