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Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2007 Nov;293(5):R1864-74. Epub 2007 Sep 12.

Social stress and recovery: implications for body weight and body composition.

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Neuroscience Graduate Program, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH 45237, USA.


Social stress resulting from dominant-subordinate relationships is associated with body weight loss and altered body composition in subordinate (SUB) male rats. Here, we extend these findings to determine whether stress-induced changes in energy homeostasis persist when the social stress is removed, and the animal is allowed to recover. We examined body weight (BW), body composition, and relevant endocrine measures after one or two cycles of 14 days of social stress, each followed by 21 days of recovery in each rat's individual home cage. SUB lost significantly more BW during social housing in a visible burrow system (VBS) compared with dominant (DOM) animals. Weight loss during social stress was attributable to a decrease in adipose tissue in DOM and SUB, with an additional loss of lean tissue in SUB. During both 21-day recovery periods, DOM and SUB regained lost BW, but only SUB were hyperphagic. Following recovery, SUB had a relatively larger increase in adipose tissue and plasma leptin compared with DOM, indicating that body composition changes were dependent on social status. Control animals that were weight matched to SUB or male rats exposed to the VBS environment without females, and that did not form a social hierarchy, did not exhibit changes in body composition like SUB in the VBS. Therefore, chronic social stress causes social status-dependent changes in BW, composition and endocrine measures that persist after repeated stress and recovery cycles and that may ultimately lead to metabolic disorders and obesity.

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