Clinical studies indicate that children who experience a traumatic brain injury (TBI) are often the victim of peer rejection, have very few mutual friends, and are at risk for long-term behavioural and social impairments. Owing to the fact that peer play is critical for healthy development, it is possible that the long-term impairments are associated not only with the TBI, but also altered play during this critical period of brain development. This study was designed to determine if social dynamics and juvenile play are altered in rats that experience a mild TBI (mTBI) early in life. Play-fighting behaviours were recorded and analyzed for young male and female Sprague Dawley rats that were given either an mTBI or a sham injury. The study found that the presence of an mTBI altered the play fighting relationship, and the nature of the alterations were dependent upon the sex of the pairing and the injury status of their peers. Sham rats were significantly less likely to initiate play with an mTBI rat, and were more likely to respond to a play initiation from an mTBI rat with an avoidant strategy. This effect was significantly more pronounced in female rats, whereby it appeared that female rats with an mTBI were particularly rejected and most often excluded from play experiences. Male rats with an mTBI learned normal play strategies from their sham peers (when housed in mixed cages), whereas female rats with an mTBI show heightened impairment in these conditions. Play therapy may need to be incorporated into treatment strategies for children with TBI.
- Play fighting behaviour
- Sprague Dawley rat