Marked dissociation between hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal activation and long-term behavioral effects in rats exposed to immobilization or cat odor

C. Muñoz-Abellán, R. Andero, R. Nadal, A. Armario

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43 Citations (Scopus)


Exposure of rodents to cats or certain cat odors results in long-term behavioral effects reminiscent of enhanced anxiety that have been considered to model post-traumatic stress disorder. However, other severe stressors such as tail-shock or immobilization in wooden boards (IMO) appear to induce shorter lasting changes in anxiety. In addition, there are controversial results regarding the effects of urine/feces odors. In the present work, we studied in two experiments the relationship between the degree of stress experienced by the animals during exposure to IMO, urine odors or fur odors (as assessed by hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal activation and plasma glucose) and the short- and long-term behavioral consequences. In the first experiment, rats were individually exposed for 15 min to a novel environment (white large cages) containing either clean cat litter (controls) or litter soiled by cats (urine odors). Half of the rats in each condition were left to freely explore the environment whereas the others were subjected to immobilization (IMO) within the cages. Although ACTH, corticosterone and glucose responses to IMO were much stronger than those to the white cages with clean litter or urine odors (which did not differ from each other), no effect of treatments on anxiety-like behavior in the elevated plus-maze (EPM) were found one week later. However, previous IMO exposure did cause sensitization of the ACTH response to the EPM. In the second experiment, the response to white large cages containing either no odor (controls), litter soiled by cats (urine odor) or a cloth impregnated with cat odor (fur odor) was compared. Urine and fur odors elicited similar ACTH and corticosterone responses that were higher than those of controls, but plasma glucose levels were slightly higher in rats exposed to fur odor. When compared to controls, activity was only diminished in the novel cages containing fur odor. Similarly, fur odor-exposed rats, but not those exposed to urine odor, showed signs of enhanced anxiety in the EPM seven days later, although the ACTH response to the EPM was similar in the three groups. The present data demonstrate: (a) a marked dissociation between the degree of ACTH, corticosterone and glucose responses to stressors and their long-term anxiety-like effects; (b) that the type of cat odor is critical in determining the short-term and long-term physiological and behavioral consequences of exposure; and (c) that plasma ACTH released during brief exposure to the EPM does not appear to reflect anxiety-like behavior. © 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1139-1150
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2008


  • ACTH
  • Anxiety
  • Corticosterone
  • Elevated plus-maze
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Predator stress


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