Frontier: Separation Anxiety
News From The Frontier

by Brenda Patoine

January, 2006

Dogs get it. Humans get it. And new data show that prairie voles also get what might be called separation anxiety.

Even after only five days of bonding with a female companion, male voles responded to separation from the female with depression-like symptoms and increased activity in the stress-response system.

Males isolated from their partners were significantly more passive in their behaviors and demonstrated a blunted ability to experience pleasure, in comparison to male voles separated from siblings. Digging deeper to understand why, researchers from Emory University and the University of Regensburg, Germany, found that the stress hormone corticosterone increased in lovesick voles. The expression of a gene that produces the stress-modulating protein corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) also increased in an area of the brain known to control anxiety and depression.

Prairie voles are among the 5 percent of mammals that mate for life, and the study authors suggested in a press release that the physiological mechanisms they observed in the voles may have evolved in mammals that require social bonds for survival. Similar mechanisms may be involved in the human drive for monogamy, German researcher Oliver Bosch said.