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Prairie voles as a model for adaptive reward remodeling following loss of a bonded partner.

Loss of a loved one is a painful event that substantially elevates the risk for physical and mental illness and impaired daily function. Socially monogamous prairie voles are laboratory-amenable rodents that form life-long pair bonds and exhibit distress upon partner separation, mirroring phenotypes seen in humans. These attributes make voles an excellent model for studying the biology of loss. In this review, we highlight parallels between humans and prairie voles, focusing on reward system engagement during pair bonding and loss. As yearning is a unique feature that differentiates loss from other negative mental states, we posit a model in which the homeostatic reward mechanisms that help to maintain bonds are disrupted upon loss, resulting in yearning and other negative impacts. Finally, we synthesize studies in humans and voles that delineate the remodeling of reward systems during loss adaptation. The stalling of these processes likely contributes to prolonged grief disorder, a diagnosis recently added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Psychiatry.

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