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Play is an important part of normal childhood development and seen in many mammals, including rats. To better understand the interplay between genotype and postnatal experiences, the effects of neonatal handling on play were assessed in Lewis (LEW) and Fischer 344 (F344) rats. Handled litters experienced brief periods of separation during the first two postnatal weeks. F344 rats were less likely to direct nape contacts toward an untreated Sprague–Dawley (SD) partner and less likely to rotate to a supine position in response to a nape contact. When compared to rats from control litters, handled LEW, and F344 rats were more likely to respond to nape contacts with complete rotations, suggesting that handling increased playful responsiveness to a comparable extent in both strains. SD rats paired with handled inbred rats had more nape contacts than those paired with non‐handled rats. While handled LEW rats also tended to direct more nape contacts to the SD partner than non‐handled LEW rats there was no difference between handled and non‐handled F344 rats. These results could not be readily explained by handling‐induced changes in either maternal care or anxiety. These data suggest that the behavioral consequences of neonatal handling may not depend to a great extent on the genetic platform that these manipulations are acting on. These data also suggest that the ability to maintain the ebb and flow between playful solicitation and playful responsiveness may be compromised in F344 rats and may contribute to the lower levels of play in this strain.





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