Adolescent social defeat decreases spatial working memory performance in adulthood

Andrew M. Novick, Leah C. Miiller, Gina L. Forster, Michael J. Watt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Background: Adolescent social stress is associated with increased incidence of mental illnesses in adulthood that are characterized by deficits in cognitive focus and flexibility. Such enhanced vulnerability may be due to psychosocial stress-induced disruption of the developing mesocortical dopamine system, which plays a fundamental role in facilitating complex cognitive processes such as spatial working memory. Adolescent rats exposed to repeated social defeat as a model of social stress develop dopaminergic hypofunction in the medial prefrontal cortex as adults. To evaluate a direct link between adolescent social stress and later deficits in cognitive function, the present study tested the effects of adolescent social defeat on two separate tests of spatial working memory performance. Methods: Adult rats exposed to adolescent social defeat and their controls were trained on either the delayed win-shift task or the delayed alternating T-Maze task and then challenged with various delay periods. To evaluate potential differences in motivation for the food reward used in memory tasks, consumption and conditioned place preference for sweetened condensed milk were tested in a separate cohort of previously defeated rats and controls. Results:Compared to controls, adult rats defeated in adolescence showed a delay-dependent deficit in spatial working memory performance, committing more errors at a 90 s and 5 min delay period on the T-maze and win-shift tasks, respectively. Observed memory deficits were likely independent of differences in reward motivation, as conditioned place preference for the palatable food used on both tasks was similar between the adolescent social defeat group and control. Conclusions: The results demonstrate that severe social stressors during adolescence can produce long term deficits in aspects of cognitive function. Given the dependence of spatial working memory on prefrontal dopamine, pharmacologically reversing dopaminergic deficiencies caused by adolescent social stress has the potential to treat such cognitive deficits.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number39
JournalBehavioral and Brain Functions
Issue number1
StatePublished - Oct 17 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Adolescence
  • Dopamine
  • Prefrontal cortex
  • Social defeat
  • Spatial working memory
  • Stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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