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Preclinical models of human mood disorders commonly focus on the study of negative affectivity, without comparably stressing the role of positive affects and their ability to promote resilient coping styles. We evaluated the role of background constitutional affect of rats by studying the separation and reunion responses of infants from low and high positive affect genetic lines (i.e., differentially selected for High and Low 50 kHz ultrasonic vocalisations (USVs).
Infants from Low and High 50 kHz USV breeding lines were isolated from mothers and exposed to either social (familiar or unfamiliar bedding) or neutral (clean bedding) odour cues between two short isolation periods, and tested in homeothermic and hypothermic ambient temperatures. Negative affect was estimated by monitoring separation distress calls (35–45 kHz USVs).
Low Line pups called at higher rates than High Line, and their rates were stable regardless of odour cue. In contrast, High Line pups increased vocalisations during the second compared with the first isolation periods and during exposure to both familiar and unfamiliar odour cues, but not to neutral odour. Furthermore, the greatest increase in USV emission was seen in the second isolation period following exposure to the unfamiliar odour. However, both lines showed comparable elevated distress USVs to the thermal stressor.
High Line animals, selected for a positive affective phenotype (50 kHz USVs), exhibited reduced separation anxiety responses in infancy, making this a promising animal model for the role of constitutional affective states in emotional responsivity and potential resilience against emotional disorders.
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