Anxiety and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis responses to psychological stress are attenuated in male rats made lean by large litter rearing

Lauren J Bulfin, Melanie J Clarke, Kathryn M Buller, Sarah J Spencer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)


An excellent strategy to treat overactive responses to stress is to exploit the body s inherent stress-inhibitory mechanisms. Stress responses are known to differ between individuals depending upon their level and distribution of adiposity and their experiences in early life. For instance, we have recently shown that female rats made obese by overfeeding during the neonatal period have exacerbated responses to psychological stress. The converse may be true for those that are underfed during this period. In this investigation we hypothesized that rats made lean by neonatal underfeeding would have reduced anxiety and attenuated hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis responses to psychological stress. Our findings show that male (but not female) rats, made smaller by being suckled in a large litter, show reduced anxiety-related behaviour compared with those from normal litters when tested in the elevated plus maze. These smaller males also have attenuated activation of the paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus in response to the psychological stress, restraint, and corticosterone responses to restraint that return more quickly to baseline than controls. These findings are exciting from the perspective of understanding and potentially exploiting the body s inherent stress-inhibitory mechanisms to treat overactive responses to stress. They also provide an indication that being lean may be able to ameliorate overactive stress responses. Understanding the mechanisms by which these stress responses are attenuated in lean animals will be important for future strategies to treat diseases associated with overactive HPA axes in humans.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1080 - 1091
Number of pages12
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 2011

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