Communal nesting, an early social enrichment, affects social competences but not learning and memory abilities at adulthood

Ivana D'Andrea, Enrico Alleva, Igor Branchi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We exposed mouse pups to an early social enrichment, the communal nest (CN), to study the effects of the early social experiences on adult brain function and behavior. CN, which consists of a single nest where three mothers keep their pups together and share care-giving behavior from birth to weaning (postnatal day 25), mimics the natural ecological niche of the mouse species. In order to better characterize the previously reported effect of CN on social behavior and to evaluate the extent to which the effects of the CN tend to be pervasive across different behavioral competences, we carried out both a detailed analysis of home-cage social behavior, taking into account the time of the day and absence/presence of an established social hierarchy, and of learning and memory abilities in the water maze. Home-cage observations revealed that, when the hierarchy is established, CN mice display higher levels of social investigation behavior, namely allogrooming and allosniffing, compared to mice reared in standard laboratory conditions (SN). However, when exposed to cage cleaning, a stimulus challenging social hierarchy, CN mice display higher levels of offensive behavior. In the water maze test, CN mice showed a performance similar to that of SN mice. Overall, the present findings confirm that CN mice have elaborate social competencies displaying high levels of aggressive behavior when needed to set up or defend their own territory. Furthermore, present data suggest that the early social enrichment specifically affect adult social behavior but not learning and memory abilities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)60-66
Number of pages7
JournalBehavioural Brain Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Oct 1 2007


  • Communal nesting
  • Early experiences
  • Home-cage
  • Learning and memory
  • Social behavior
  • Water maze

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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