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Physiol Behav. 2007 Jul 24;91(4):440-8. Epub 2007 Apr 12.

Dynamic body weight and body composition changes in response to subordination stress.

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Department of Psychiatry, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH 45237, USA.


Social stress is prevalent in many facets of modern society. Epidemiological data suggest that stress is linked to the development of overweight, obesity and metabolic disease. Although there are strong associations between the incidence of obesity with stress and elevated levels of hormones such as cortisol, there are limited animal models to allow investigation of the etiology of increased adiposity resulting from exposure to stress. Perhaps more importantly, an animal model that mirrors the consequences of stress in humans will provide a vehicle to develop rational clinical therapy to treat or prevent adverse outcomes from exposure to chronic social stress. In the visible burrow system (VBS) model of chronic social stress mixed gender colonies are housed for 2 week periods during which male rats of the colony quickly develop a dominance hierarchy. We found that social stress has significant effects on body weight and body composition such that subordinate rats progressively develop characteristics of obesity that occurs, in part, through neuroendocrine alterations and changes in food intake amount. Although subordinate rats are hyperphagic following social stress they do not increase their intake of sucrose solution as control and dominants do suggesting that they are anhedonic. Consumption of a high fat diet does not appear to affect development of a social hierarchy and appears to enhance the effect that chronic stress has on body composition. The visible burrow system (VBS) model of social stress may be a potential laboratory model for studying stress-associated metabolic disease, including the metabolic syndrome.

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