For rats (and humans) early social isolation causes anxiety-like behavior in adulthood. Work by Lukkes et al. now shows that an antagonist of a brain membrane corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) receptor (delivered by a brain cannula) partially reverses this effect. Will we be seeing clinical trials of this approach in humans before long? The abstract:
Social isolation of rats during the early part of development increases social anxiety-like behavior in adulthood. Furthermore, early-life social isolation increases the levels of corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) receptors in the serotonergic dorsal raphe nucleus (dRN) of adult rats. Interactions between serotonin and CRF systems are thought to mediate anxiety behavior. Therefore, we investigated the effects of CRF receptor antagonism within the dRN on social anxiety-like behavior after early-life social isolation. Male rats were reared in isolation or in groups from weaning until midadolescence, and rehoused in groups and allowed to develop into adulthood. Adult rats underwent surgery to implant a drug cannula into the dRN. After recovery from surgery and acclimation to the testing arena, rats were infused with vehicle or the CRF receptor antagonist D-Phe-CRF(12-41) (50 or 500 ng) into the dRN before a social interaction test. Isolation-reared rats pretreated with vehicle exhibited increased social anxiety-like behavior compared with rats reared in groups. Pretreatment of the dRN with D-Phe-CRF(12-41) significantly reduced social anxiety-like behaviors exhibited by isolation-reared rats. Overall, this study shows that early-life social stress results in heightened social anxiety-like behavior, which is reversed by CRF antagonism within the dRN. These data suggest that CRF receptor antagonists could provide a potential treatment of stress-related social anxiety.