Studying Chronic Stress in Animals: Purposes, Models and Consequences

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© 2015 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. All rights reserved. Exposure to acute physical and emotional stressors causes profound physiological changes, most of them orchestrated by the brain through pituitary hormones and anterior pituitary-dependent endocrine axes. Some physiological responses to physical stressors are markedly dependent on the particular nature of the stressor whereas the response to emotional stressors is more homogeneous. In general, emotional stressors activate the sympathetic-adrenomedullary (SAM) and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axes, whereas there are biphasic effects on prolactin release and the pituitary-gonadal and pituitary-thyroid axes. The growth hormone response varies among species. When exposure to stressors is prolonged for weeks or when animals are intermittently exposed to the same stressor the initial response can markedly change as a consequence of the development of adaptive or maladaptive processes. Daily repeated exposure to the same emotional stressor usually results in reduced SAM and HPA responses, whereas such reduction is only found for certain physical stressors. There is a renewed interest in the processes underlying this phenomenon, which is called habituation, adaptation, or tolerance. However, regardless of the development of tolerance, chronic intermittent stress and other chronic stress models exert important consequences on all neuroendocrine systems that are related to the particular nature of the stressors, but also to their intensity and duration. High-intensity stressors increase the potential of the SAM and HPA axes to respond to further challenges, but inhibit other neuroendocrine systems, particularly those related to growth and reproduction. Special attention is presently being paid to the neuroendocrine consequences of exposure to chronic unpredictable stress and various animal models of social stress that may be relevant as models of the etiology of anxiety and depression in humans. These models have unmasked interesting individual differences that may be exploited in the future to explore the neurobiology of resilience and vulnerability to stress. As most results of chronic stress have been obtained in males, an effort should be made in future studies to characterized sex differences.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationNeuroendocrinology of Stress
Number of pages25
Publication statusPublished - 21 Aug 2015


  • Adaptation
  • Allostasis
  • Anhedonia
  • Anxiety
  • Chronic unpredictable stress
  • Corticosterone
  • Depression
  • Emotional stressor
  • HPA axis
  • Physical stressor
  • Social stress


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