Aggressive experience increases dendritic spine density within the nucleus accumbens core in female syrian hamsters

N. A. Staffend, R. L. Meisel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Activity within the mesolimbic dopamine system is associated with the performance of naturally motivated behaviors, one of which is aggression. In male rats, aggressive behavior induces neurochemical changes within the nucleus accumbens, a key structure within the mesolimbic dopamine system. Corresponding studies have not been done in females. Female Syrian hamsters live as isolates and when not sexually responsive are aggressive toward either male or female intruders, making them an excellent model for studying aggression in females. We took advantage of this naturally expressed behavior to examine the effects of repeated aggressive experience on the morphology of medium spiny neurons in the nucleus accumbens and caudate nucleus, utilizing a DiOlistic labeling approach. We found that repeated aggressive experience significantly increased spine density within the nucleus accumbens core, with no significant changes in any other brain region examined. At the same time, significant changes in spine morphology were observed in all brain regions following repeated aggressive experience. These data are significant in that they demonstrate that repeated exposure to behaviors that form part of an animal's life history will alter neuronal structure in a way that may shift neurobiological responses to impact future social interactions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)163-169
Number of pages7
StatePublished - Dec 27 2012

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by National Institutes of Health Grant DA013680 to R.L.M and training grant T32DA07234 (Virginia Seybold, PI). We appreciate Emily Bromley’s help in scoring the aggressive behavior videos.


  • Caudate
  • Dendritic morphology
  • Nucleus accumbens
  • Social behavior
  • Spine density
  • Spine morphology


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