In the realm of animal models of psychopathology, social stress based procedures rely on robust theoretical prerequisites to meet construct validity criteria for the target syndromes. In order to further assess the relevance for human psychopathology of a social defeat based model in rats, known to elicit consistent behavioral and hormonal changes, we expanded its characterization on the basis of both behavioral parameters and peripheral biomarkers thought to be pertinent for clinical symptoms. Rats were subjected to 3 daily social defeat experiences that shortly thereafter led to the insurgence of defensive behaviors, anhedonia, and body weight loss. HPA axis showed an activated response when rats were sampled as early as after the first social defeat experience, while none of the peripheral immune, metabolic, and neurotrophic factors examined were concurrently affected. With the aim of determining the long-term bio-behavioral sequelae of the social defeat experience, rats were assessed also 3 weeks after the social defeats. At this time, behavioral changes were still observed, including decreased general activity and sociality in a social avoidance test, increased immobility and decreased escape responses in a forced swim test. These alterations were not paralleled by alterations in anhedonia nor HPA axis responses from controls, nor where evident changes in the humoral component of the immune response nor in brain derived neurotrophic factor levels, whereas a substantial increase in leptin levels was observed in previously socially defeated rats compared to control. Overall these data depict a very complex set of alterations induced both acutely and long-term by social stress in endocrinological and behavioral reactivity of rats.
- Social defeat