Olfactory learning in the rat immediately after birth: Unique salience of first odors.Dev Psychobiol. 2009 Sep; 51(6):488-504.DP
An infant rat's chance of survival is increased when it remains close to the nest. Early olfactory learning supports such adaptive behavior. Previous experiments indicated that non-associative odor exposure immediately after birth promoted later attachment to a similarly scented artificial nipple. The goal of the current experiments was to extend these findings on olfactory learning in the hours after birth by: exposing pups to more than one odor exposure (Experiment 1), dissecting the role of timing versus order of odor exposure (Experiment 2), testing the odor specificity of these effects (Experiments 3 and 4), and evaluating associative odor conditioning soon after birth (Experiment 5). Without explicit prior odor experience, pups only hours old do not respond much to a novel odor. Prior non-associative odor experience increases later motor activity to that same odor and to novel odors. Furthermore, these findings may be specific to certain amodal dimensions of the (in our case) lemon odor exposure. Single odor non-associative and associative conditioning was equally effective immediately after birth and during the third postnatal hour. Nevertheless, pups given two mere odor exposures responded to the first one more than the second at test, regardless of whether the exposures began immediately or 2 hr after birth. Possible mechanisms for these findings concerning early olfactory learning are discussed.