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Physiol Behav. 2010 Aug 4;101(1):53-8. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2010.04.016. Epub 2010 Apr 27.

Social defeat differentially affects immune responses in Siberian hamsters (Phodopus sungorus).

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Indiana University, Department of Biology, Center for the Integrative Study of Animal Behavior and Program in Neuroscience, Bloomington, IN 47405, USA.


Social defeat is a complex, multi-faceted behavioral interaction capable of eliciting a wide range of physiological and behavioral responses. The behavioral components responsible for eliciting these changes, however, remain unspecified. The goal of the present study was to examine the effects of chronic social defeat on serum cortisol concentration as well as innate and acquired immune responses in adult male Siberian hamsters (Phodopus sungorus). Specifically, we experimentally manipulated the nature of the social interaction among conspecific animals (i.e., no social interaction, exposure to the sight or smell of a conspecific, or full social defeat) in order to determine the important components contributing to potential stress-induced changes in immunity. We found that immunoglobulin G (IgG) levels were decreased in defeated animals relative to both control animals and those exposed only to the olfactory cues of conspecifics. In contrast, serum bactericidal activity was increased in the defeated animals relative to controls. Prolonged social defeat did not elevate serum cortisol levels as compared with control animals. The results of this study suggest that social defeat alters immune responses and that specific behavioral components (i.e., defeat) contribute to this response. Importantly, these findings also demonstrate that social defeat exerts opposite effects on innate and acquired measures of immunity. Collectively, these results contribute to our understanding of complex social behaviors and their differential effects on endocrine and immune responses in vertebrates.

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