Do High Levels of Social Avoidance Affect Tissue Regeneration in African Spiny Mice?

Ashley Jenkins

Authors: Ashley Jenkins, Gizelle Godinez, Malcolm Maden, & Dr. Justin Varholick

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Justin Varholick

College:  College of Liberal Arts and Sciences


The African spiny mouse (Acomys cahirinus) is the first known mammal capable of regenerative healing to complete functionality, as opposed to the usual effects of scarring: reduced functionality. However, research on social dominance in group-housed animals indicates the social stress they experience may interact with their regeneration rates. Unfortunately, few studies have outlined the general dominance behavior of spiny mice and its underlying aspects. Dominance behavior is typically reflected through chasing and fleeing, but research demonstrates that other factors, such as social avoidance, can play a role. Here we attempt to build an operational definition of social avoidance behavior by evaluating the difference between dominant and submissive mice and their behavioral patterns. We also analyze the relationship between these avoidance patterns and regeneration rates of individual mice. Further studies should look into building a definition of dominance determined by avoidance, as well as the physiological stress associated with avoidance behavior, including glucocorticoid production, and how this can impact regeneration.

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10 Responses
  1. Ashley Jenkins

    Hello everyone! Welcome to my page. I hope you find my research informative, and I am here to answer any questions you may have. 🙂

  2. Komal Handoo

    Hi Ashley, I loved your research topic! I’m curious, how do you think this would translate to temporary social avoidance due to PTSD or other psychological trauma? And with the help of therapy, do you think that if this social avoidance is overcome, a boost in regeneration will be seen?

    1. Ashley Jenkins

      Hi Komal, thank you so much for your insightful questions! Given that psychological trauma is frequently associated with injury, it is definitely worth looking into how temporary changes in social avoidance behavior can impact regeneration. With the idea of therapy to overcome social avoidance, too, this opens up a great door for future research to look into. In the case of the spiny mice, these changes in social avoidance behavior could potentially be studied by shifting mice from a cage in which they hold a dominant role to one in which they held a subordinate role, as well as vice versa, and studying how their rates of regeneration change with a change in external stressors. Since many factors can play into social avoidance beyond just what we have seen in the study, it would be worth first establishing whether it is the experience of dominance that causes a faster regeneration rate or instead physical characteristics associated with dominance that contribute to this. I love the way your questions tie everything into the big picture. Thank you again!

  3. Sophia Paulitz

    This was a super interesting presentation! Did you all analyze the causes of dominance of the mice? Was there potentially a physiological reason behind this, leading to dominance and therein, correlating with faster regeneration times? This research sounds like it could make an impact on the world of medicine. Great job!

    1. Ashley Jenkins

      Hi Sophia!
      Thank you very much! We have not yet looked extensively into the physiological reasoning behind all of this yet, but that is certainly a step we are hoping to take in the future. There are so many factors that can contribute to dominance ranking, both physiological and environmental, and it is possible that some of these factors may interfere with regeneration independently of social avoidance as well. Now that we have identified the correlation between dominance ranking and regeneration rate, our future goals include taking a deeper look into the causation. It is very exciting to think about how all of this can tie into regenerative medicine. Thank you again!

  4. Sophia Paulitz

    This was a super interesting presentation! Did you all analyze factors leading to the dominance in mice? Was there a potentially physiological reason behind the dominance that correlated with faster regeneration times? This research seems like it could make a big impact on the medical world. Great job!

  5. Ambreen Imran

    Hi Ashley! This was such an interesting presentation. I think this research definitely has positive implications for the medical field. How exactly did these mice display dominant behavior over each other/how were behaviors measured in a standardized fashion? Also, how do you think this research could be translated into the clinical setting? Stress definitely plays a large role in injury, so how can practitioners go about fostering an environment that can allow for faster regeneration?

    1. Ashley Jenkins

      Hi Ambreen!
      Before beginning the observations, we worked to develop an ethogram for various behaviors the spiny mice display and categorized them into Location, Agonistic Behavior, and Other. Figure 2 shows the operational definitions for each of the behaviors we observed. To establish dominance rank, the incidence of agonistic behavior was recorded for each individual mouse, which helped to indicate dominance ranking based on whether the behavior is considered dominant or subordinate. Once dominance rank was established, we used video coding through the software BORIS in order to track duration of the behaviors in the ethogram. In terms of how this can be translated to a clinical setting, I think it is first important for us to understand the physiological mechanism that goes along with this. It is certainly true that stress plays a huge role in injury, and research has demonstrated that stress can interfere with healing. So, taking a much more in-depth look at the physiological factors of stress and regeneration in spiny mice can allow practitioners to have the foundational knowledge of how these factors tie in together, and therefore they can help foster an environment that minimizes the amount of stress a patient may experience.