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Sick animals display drastic changes in their behavioral patterns, including decreased activity, decreased food and water intake, and decreased interest in social interactions. These behaviors, collectively called “sickness behaviors”, can be socially modulated. For example, when provided with mating opportunities, males of several species show reduced sickness behaviors. While the behavior is known to change, how the social environment affects neural molecular responses to sickness is not known. Here, we used a species, the zebra finch, Taeniopygia guttata, where males have been shown to decrease sickness behaviors when presented with novel females. Using this paradigm, we obtained samples from three brain regions (the hypothalamus, the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis, and the nucleus taeniae) from lipopolysaccharide (LPS) or control treated males housed under four different social environments. Manipulation of the social environment rapidly changed the strength and co-expression patterns of the neural molecular responses to the immune challenge in all brain regions tested, therefore suggesting that the social environment plays a significant role in determining the neural responses to an infection. In particular, brains of males paired with a novel female showed muted immune responses to LPS, as well as altered synaptic signaling. Neural metabolic activity in response to the LPS challenge was also affected by the social environment. Our results provide new insights into the effects of the social environment on brain responses to an infection, thereby improving our understanding of how the social environment can affect health.


NOTICE: this is the author’s version of a work that was accepted for publication in Brain Behavior and Immunity. Changes resulting from the publishing process, such as peer review, editing, corrections, structural formatting, and other quality control mechanisms may not be reflected in this document. Changes may have been made to this work since it was submitted for publication. A definitive version was subsequently published in Brain Behavior and Immunity, volume 110, in 2023.

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