ABSTRACT In the neonatal rat, the olfactory system is a fundamental channel to locate and recognize the mother, to survive and develop early social behavior, and to distinguish related or unrelated members of a litter. Perinatal undernutrition in rats alters the neuronal organization and functioning of the olfactory system and its ascending relays, possibly affecting odor discrimination. In this study we compared the frequency and time spent visiting the source of urine obtained from unrelated female subjects and amyl acetate odors vs water in adult perinatally underfed rats. Each test initiated with one daily presentation during three consecutive aliquots of deionized water (10 μl) placed on a filter paper for 2 min, separated by 1-min intervals for habituation. The water presentations were followed by three exposures to an odor, all at the same dilution (either 1:1 or 1:80) for dishabituation. Control (C) and undernourished (U) subjects display similar, significant habituation/dishabituation responses, except that the U subjects showed greater increases in the frequency and duration of visits to undiluted and diluted urine and amyl acetate cues compared to the controls. These findings are similar to previous studies showing that adult rats investigate novel odors longer than the familiar ones. Thus, perinatal undernutrition appears to interfere with the foundation of the olfactory development causing long-term olfactory discrimination deficits as revealed by the increased frequency and duration of visits to the source of odors that may be relevant for social behavior.
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