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Physiol Behav. 2002 Apr 15;75(5):621-6.

Opioid activity in behavioral and heart rate responses of tethered pigs to acute stress.

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  • 1Ethology Group, Institute of Animal Sciences, Wageningen University, PO Box 338, 6700 AH Wageningen, The Netherlands.


In a longitudinal experiment, effects of long-term tether housing on heart rate and behavioral responses to an acute stressor (a 15-min challenge with a nosesling) were investigated in pigs. The animals were challenged during loose housing and again after 10-11 weeks of tether housing. To detect possible changes in endogenous opioid systems modifying these responses, the pigs were pretreated with the opioid receptor antagonist naloxone (0.5 mg/kg body weight, iv). In response to the nosesling challenge, the animals showed pronounced resistance behavior and a sharp rise in heart rate. Following this initial phase of resistance, the heart rate dropped to prechallenge levels or below this line, and the pigs seemed to become sedated. Pretreatment with naloxone increased the heart rate response in animals that were long-term tether housed (n=12). No such effect was found in the control group (n=5) that was loose-housed during the entire experiment, indicating that the impact of endogenous opioid systems mitigating heart rate responses to acute stress had increased as a result of long-term tether housing. Changes in the effect of naloxone on the behavioral response were not found. Adaptive changes in opioid systems may prevent excessive physiological reactions to acute stress and, thus, may serve as a coping mechanism.

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