Lactating mice respond differentially to intruders of differing sex, displaying defensive attack against the male and offensive attack against the female. Such a phenotypic dichotomy appears to have adaptive value in that unfamiliar males pose a much greater threat to the offspring than do females. The present study examined the effects of the benzodiazepine anxiolytic chlordiazepoxide (CDP) (2.5–10.0 mg/kg) on this differential response pattern in aggression-naive (nonscreened) (NS) and aggression-experienced (screened) (S) lactating female mice (Mus musculus domesticus) confronting intruders of either sex in a 10-min test. This procedure was used to evaluate the influence of both the type of opponent and previous aggressive experience on basal behavioural profiles and drug action. Results showed that both intruder sex and prior screening for attack modulated the behaviour of lactating females toward intruders. In turn, both variables strongly influenced CDP effects on maternal aggression. In particular, in S dams, CDP dose-dependently increased maternal attack against males but decreased attack against female intruders. Conversely, in NS dams, CDP decreased attack (and fear) against males but did not affect it against females. In both S and NS conditions, CDP modified the attack strategy of lactating females against the male, switching it from a defensive to an offensive pattern. Exploration, social investigation, eating, and immobility were differentially affected by the drug treatment, depending on screening and/or intruder sex condition. These differential effects of CDP between S and NS conditions, toward either male or female intruders, cannot be fully explained by differences in the baseline levels of these behaviours. Alternative hypotheses are discussed. These findings demonstrate that the effects of CDP on maternal attack behaviour depend on not only the drug but also the object of attack, and hence the function of attack and the prior experience of the attacker.
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