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Domest Anim Endocrinol. 1995 Apr;12(2):167-77.

The effect of chronic stress on plasma cortisol concentrations in cyclic female pigs depends on the time of day.

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  • 1Department of Human and Animal Physiology, Wageningen Agricultural University, The Netherlands.


The influence of tethered housing (a condition of chronic stress) on morning and evening basal plasma cortisol levels was investigated in a longitudinal study in cyclic female nulliparous pigs (gilts). After a period of loose housing in individual pens ("nonstress" estrous cycles), six cannulated gilts were tethered by a neck chain and housed for a period of 20 wk (chronic stress estrous cycles). Blood was sampled twice daily (1000 and 1800 hr) for cortisol determination. Plasma cortisol levels showed a diurnal rhythm with significantly higher levels at 1000 hr than at 1800 hr. Tethered housing induced a significant increase in the 1800-hr plasma cortisol concentrations during the first three estrous cycles after tethering, whereas the 1000-hr plasma cortisol concentrations did not change throughout the experimental period. During the period of increased 1800-hr levels, cortisol was still released in a circadian fashion, albeit, the rhythm was flattened. In control gilts, housed loose during the entire experimental period, plasma cortisol concentrations at 1000 hr and at 1800 hr remained unaltered and 1000-hr cortisol concentrations were significantly higher than the 1800-hr concentrations during the experimental period. Therefore, possible effects of the experimental procedure or age-related effects could be excluded. These data indicate that, in tethered gilts, the chronic stress-induced hypercortisolemia is of transient nature, suggesting adaptive changes in the regulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical axis. In addition, the data reveal circadian differences in the effect of chronic stress on hypothalamic-pituitary- adrenocortical function.

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