ID Lelystad, Institute for Animal Science and Health
Refereed Article in a scientific journal
Social stress in rats is known to induce long-lasting, adverse changes in behaviour and physiology, which seem to resemble certain human psychopathologies, such as depression and anxiety. The present experiment was designed to assess the influence of individual or group housing on the vulnerability of male Wildtype rats to long-term effects of inescapable social defeat. Group-housed rats were individually exposed to an aggressive, unfamiliar male conspecific, resulting in a social defeat. Defeated rats were then either individually housed or returned to their group. The changes in their behaviour and physiology were then studied for 3 weeks. Results showed that individually housed rats developed long-lasting, adverse behavioural and physiological changes after social defeat. Their body growth was significantly retarded (p<.05) between 7 and 14 days after defeat. When individually and group-housed rats were exposed to a mild stressor (sudden silence) 2 days after defeat, both groups became highly immobile. However, when exposure was repeated at day 21, individually housed rats were still highly immobile compared to group-housed rats which regained their normal mobility after only 7 days. In an open field test, also regularly repeated, individually housed rats took significantly longer to leave their home base and were also significantly less mobile than group-housed rats over the entire 3-week test period as well as at specific timepoints. When the rats were placed in an elevated plus-maze 14 days after defeat, those that were individually housed were significantly more anxious than those that were group-housed. When tested at 21 days after defeat in a combined dexamethasone (DEX)/corticotrophin-releasing factor (CRF) test, results showed that the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) activity in individually housed rats was higher. This was evidenced in the latter animals by the fact that DEX was significantly less able to suppress the secretion of ACTH and corticosterone, and by a significantly higher release of ACTH after administration of CRF. Although the weights of the spleen and testes of the two groups did not differ, the adrenals of individually housed rats were larger and the thymus and seminal vesicles were smaller. We conclude that when rats are isolated after defeat, they show long-lasting, adverse behavioural and physiological changes that resemble symptoms of stress-related disorders. In contrast, when familiar rats are housed together these effects of a social defeat are greatly reduced. These findings show that housing conditions importantly influence the probability of long-term adverse behavioural and physiological effects of social defeat in male Wildtype rats.
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