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Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2004 Aug;29(7):861-6.

Circulating levels of glucocorticoid hormones in WHHL and NZW rabbits: circadian cycle and response to repeated social encounter.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, University of Miami, P.O. Box 248185, Coral Gables, FL 33124, USA.


Social environment influences the progression of atherosclerosis in an important experimental model of disease, the Watanabe Heritable Hyperlipidemic rabbit (WHHL). Although the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) system is likely to play an important role in the behavioral modulation of disease, relatively little is known about the glucocorticoid responses in these animals, or in other strains of rabbits. The purpose of the present study was to: (1) evaluate the rabbit glucocorticoid circadian rhythm, (2) compare plasma cortisol and corticosterone responses to social stress, and (3) examine strain differences (i.e., WHHL vs. New Zealand White (NZW)) in rabbit glucocorticoid responses to assess whether WHHLs have an aberrant HPA system. It was found that male rabbits secrete both corticosterone and cortisol in a circadian rhythm that peaks in the afternoon and reaches a nadir at 0600 h, i.e., approximately 12 h out-of-phase with the human glucocorticoid rhythm. Both glucocorticoids responded similarly to social stress induced by repeated daily 4 h pairings with another male rabbit; after 10 days of pairings, glucorticoid values were significantly correlated with the amount of defensive agonistic behavior exhibited. Finally, there were no significant strain differences in glucocorticoid circadian rhythms, baselines, or responses to social stress. These data suggest that glucocorticoid responses (i.e., circadian rhythms, responses to social stress) in the WHHL are similar to glucocorticoid responses in standard laboratory white rabbits.

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