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J Endocrinol. 2000 Mar;164(3):349-59.

Neonatal handling permanently alters hypothalamic-pituitary- adrenal axis function, behaviour, and body weight in boars.

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Department of Agricultural, Food, and Nutritional Science, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, T6G 2P5, Canada.


Neonatal handling permanently alters hypothalamic- pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA) function in rats. In the rat, this treatment increases hippocampal glucocorticoid receptors (GR) and dampens plasma ACTH and corticosterone responses to stressors. The objectives of this study were to determine whether neonatal handling of pigs would effect permanent changes in plasma corticosteroid binding capacity (CBG), basal or stressor-induced plasma cortisol and ACTH concentrations, brain or pituitary GR levels, dexamethasone suppression of plasma cortisol and ACTH concentrations, behaviour in an open field-test pen, and body weights. Twelve litters of pigs were randomly assigned to either neonatal handling or no disturbance. Handled litters were removed from the farrowing crate for 10 min per day for the first 14 days of life. Male pigs were kept for the study and the boars were weighed monthly. At 7 months of age, boars were tested for locomotory behaviour in an open field-test pen. The boars were implanted with indwelling ear-vein catheters and blood samples were obtained basally, during and after application of a nose snare, and after 0.04 mg/kg dexamethasone. Boars were killed and blood samples were obtained and the brain and pituitary glands collected. Handled boars had greater (P<0.05) plasma CBG binding and lower basal total (P<0.05) and calculated free (P<0.03) plasma cortisol concentrations. No significant differences between treatments were found in plasma ACTH or cortisol responses to a nose-snare stressor; however, when killed, handled boars had greater (P<0.02) plasma ACTH concentrations. Handled and non-handled boars did not differ in plasma ACTH or cortisol responses to dexamethasone. There was no treatment effect on GR expression in the pituitary gland, frontal cortex, hippocampus, or hypothalamus. Behaviourally, the handled boars had higher (P<0.03) locomotor scores over inner squares and a lower (P<0.05) ratio of outer:inner squares entered in open field-tests. During the first 7 months of life, body weights were lower (P<0.004) for handled boars. In conclusion, neonatal handling permanently altered HPA function in pigs, but in a manner dissimilar to that found in the rat. These changes induced in the pig were not beneficial for commercial production with respect to body weight.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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