Sexual aggression can disrupt processes related to learning as females emerge from puberty into young adulthood. To model these experiences in laboratory studies, we developed SCAR, which stands for Sexual Con specific Aggressive Response. During puberty, a rodent female is paired daily for 30-min with a sexually-experienced adult male.

During the SCAR experience, the male tracks the urogenital region of the female as she escapes from pins. Concentrations of the stress hormone corticosterone were significantly elevated during and after the experience. Moreover, females that were exposed to the adult male throughout puberty did not perform well during training with an associative learning task nor did they learn well to express maternal behaviors during maternal sensitization. Most females that were exposed to the adult male did not learn to care for offspring over the course of 17 days. Finally, females that did not express maternal behaviors retained fewer newly-generated cells in their hippo-campus whereas those that did express maternal behaviors retained more cells, most of which would differentiate into neurons within weeks.

Together these data support SCAR as a useful laboratory model for studying the potential consequences of sexual aggression and trauma for the female brain during puberty and young adulthood.

Sexual Conspecific Aggressive Response (SCAR): A Model of Sexual Trauma that Disrupts Maternal Learning and Plasticity in the Female Brain