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Horm Behav. 2003 Jan;43(1):205-13.

Acute and chronic restraint stress alter the incidence of social conflict in male rats.

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Laboratory of Neuroendocrinology, The Rockefeller University, 1230 York Avenue, New York, NY 10021, USA.


Stress and elevated stress hormone levels are known to alter cognition, learning, memory, and emotional responses. Three weeks of chronic stress or glucocorticoid exposure is reported to alter neuronal morphology in the hippocampus, the amygdala, and the prefrontal cortex, and to decrease neurogenesis in the dentate gyrus. Here we examine the effects of acute and chronic restraint stress exposure on the incidence of emotional responses throughout a 3-week period among adult rat conspecifics. Our data indicate that acute restraint stress (i.e., a single 6-h exposure) results in a significant reduction in aggressive conflicts among stressed males compared to experimental controls. In contrast, on Days 14 and 21, repeatedly restrained rats exhibited significantly more aggressive behaviors than controls. Blood samples taken 18 h after the last restraint session indicate that plasma concentrations of the stress hormone corticosterone (CORT) in stressed rats were equivalent to those of unstressed rats; however, the number of individually initiated aggressive acts observed positively correlated with plasma CORT measures taken at the end of the study. In contrast to studies of psychosocial stress or intruder paradigms, here we observe spontaneous emotional responses to an uncontrollable stressor in the homecage. This study provides a novel examination of the effects of chronic restraint stress on emotional responses in the home environment among cagemates. These results indicate that acute and chronic restraint stress alter the incidence of aggression, and emphasize the relevance of this model of chronic stress to studies of stress-responsive disorders characterized by aggressive behavior.

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