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Brain Behav Immun. 2004 Jan;18(1):35-45.

Consequences of repeated early isolation in domestic piglets (Sus scrofa) on their behavioural, neuroendocrine, and immunological responses.

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Research Unit Behavioural Physiology, Research Institute for the Biology of Farm Animals, Dummerstorf, Germany.


Stress in the form of intermittent maternal deprivation and social isolation during early postnatal life in rats and monkeys produces persistent changes in physiology and behaviour. In farm animals physiological consequences of disrupting mother-infant interactions with respect to health and animal welfare are relatively unknown. Therefore, the aim of the present study was to investigate the behavioural, neuroendocrine and immunological consequences of a 2 h daily social isolation from day 3 to day 11 of age in domestic piglets as well as potential long-term effects on the brain-endocrine-immune regulation. Repeated social isolation resulted in significantly decreased open-field activity (locomotion, vocalization) during the isolation period, increased basal cortisol concentrations and decreased lymphocyte proliferation in response to concanavalin A and pokeweed mitogen one day after the isolation. There was also a significant increase of interleukin-1beta (IL-1beta) concentration in hippocampus in isolated piglets compared to controls at this time. Six weeks after isolation significant enhanced basal ACTH concentrations as well as higher IL-1beta content and glucocorticoid receptor (GR) binding in hippocampus were found. These endocrine and immune responses were associated with decreased CRH levels in the hypothalamus and increased CRH content in the amygdala. The present data indicate that early social isolation in pigs may cause changes in behavioural, neuroendocrine, and immune regulation and produce long-term effects not only on the activity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) system, but also on the immune-brain circuitry with possible negative consequences in health and welfare of commercial pigs. Using the pig as a suitable animal model, the finding of this study may also have some implications for the etiology of anxiety and depression in humans.

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