Behavioral and endocrine consequences of simultaneous exposure to two different stressors in rats: Interaction or independence?

Cristina Muñoz-Abellán, Cristina Rabasa, Nuria Daviu, Roser Nadal, Antonio Armario

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Although behavioral and endocrine consequences of acute exposure to stressors have been extensively studied, little is known about how simultaneous exposure to two different stressors interacts to induce short- and long-term effects. In the present experiment we studied this interaction in adult male rats exposed to cat fur odor (impregnated cloth) or immobilization on boards either separately or simultaneously. We reasoned that exposure to the odor of a potential predator while immobilized, may potentiate its negative consequences as compared to exposure to only one of the stressors. Exposure to cat odor elicited the expected reduction of activity and avoidance of the area where the impregnated cloth was located. The endocrine response (plasma levels of ACTH and corticosterone, as a measure of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, HPA) was markedly greater after immobilization than after cat fur odor and no additive effects were found by simultaneous exposure to both stressors. Cat odor, but not immobilization, increased anxiety-like behavior as evaluated in the elevated plus-maze 7 days after the stressors, with no evidence of enhanced HPA activation. In addition, cat odor exposure resulted in long-lasting (8 days later) fear conditioning to the box containing a clean cloth, which was reflected by hypoactivity, avoidance of the cloth area and enhanced HPA activation. All these effects were similarly observed in rats exposed simultaneously to cat odor and immobilization. In rats only exposed to immobilization, only some weak behavioral signs of fear conditioning were found, but HPA activation in response to the context paired to immobilization was enhanced to the same extent as in cat odor-exposed animals, supporting a certain degree of endocrine conditioning. The present results did not reveal important behavioral interactions between the two stressors when animals experienced both simultaneously, whereas some interactions were found regarding HPA activation. Theoretical implications are discussed. © 2011 Muñoz-Abellán et al.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere21426
JournalPLoS ONE
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2011


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