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Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2005 Feb;29(1):83-97. Epub 2004 Dec 8.

Long-term effects of social stress on brain and behavior: a focus on hippocampal functioning.

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Department of Animal physiology, University of Groningen, P.O. Box 14, 9750 AA Haren, The Netherlands.


In order to study mechanisms involved in the etiology of human affective disorders, there is an abundant use of various animal models. Next to genetic factors that predispose for psychopathologies, environmental stress is playing an important role in the etiology of these mental diseases. Since the majority of stress stimuli in humans that lead to psychopathology are of social nature, the study of consequences of social stress in experimental animal models is very valuable. The present review focuses on one of these models that uses the resident-intruder paradigm. In particular the long-lasting effects of social defeat in rats will be evaluated. Data from our laboratory on the consequences of social defeat on emotional behavior, stress responsivity and serotonergic functionality are presented. Furthermore, we will go into detail on hippocampal functioning in socially stressed rats. Very recent results show that there is a differential effect of a brief double social defeat and repetitive social defeat stress on dendritic remodeling in hippocampal CA3 neurons and that this has repercussions on hippocampal LTP and LTD. Both the structural and electrophysiological changes of principal neurons in the hippocampal formation after defeat are discussed as to their relationship with the maintenance in cognitive performance that was observed in socially stressed rats. The results are indicative of a large dynamic range in the adaptive plasticity of the brain, allowing the animals to adapt behaviorally to the previously occurred stressful situation with the progression of time.

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