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Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2000 May;25(4):389-406.

Social stress in laboratory rats: hormonal responses and immune cell distribution.

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  • 1Department of Animal Physiology, University of Bayreuth, 95440, Bayreuth, Germany.


Previous experiments with chronically coexisting groups of Long-Evans rats indicated differences in many aspects of blood cellular immunity between winner and loser rats. The present study investigated the specific hormonal response patterns of winners and losers in relation to changes in numbers of blood immune cells. At the beginning of a 7 day period of chronic confrontation, a partition wall was removed between two neighboring rat groups, each containing a male-female pair. Fights for dominance between the males resulted in fast establishment of stable dominance relationships. At day 7 of the confrontation, winner males showed stable concentrations of CBG (corticosteroid-binding globulin) and even reduced titers of total CORT (corticosterone). In contrast, a marked decrease in CBG and unaffected total CORT concentrations were determined in loser males. Increased norepinephrine (NE) and epinephrine (E) titers were evident only in losers. In addition, reduced testosterone titers were observed in the bitten loser male subgroup. All male subgroups lost body mass with most pronounced reductions in loser males. Confrontation caused a marked granulocytosis, especially in loser males. NE concentrations in loser males correlated with the percentage of granulocytes. Numbers of CD4 T-cells were lowered in all loser males and in non-biting winners. In not-bitten losers also a reduced number of CD8 T-cells was determined. Interestingly, higher pre-confrontational NE titers were detected in future bitten loser and future biting winner males relatively to not-bitten losers and non-biting winners. The present report indicates that differential hormonal response patterns may play an important role in some of the immunological differences observed between winner and loser males under stressful social conditions.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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