Behavioral and neuroendocrine consequences of social subjugation across adolescence and adulthood

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Background: Social subjugation is a very significant and natural stressor in the animal kingdom. Adult animals defeated and subjugated during establishment of dominance hierarchies or territorial encounters can be highly submissive in future agonistic interactions. While much is know about the biological and behavioral consequences of winning and losing fights in adulthood, little is known about adolescence; a developmental period noted for impulsivity and heightened agonistic behavior. The present studies were undertaken to determine if the behavioral and neuroendocrine consequences of social subjugation are comparable in adolescent versus adult Syrian golden hamsters (Mesocricetus auratus). Male siblings were studied from adolescence into adulthood following exposure to counterbalanced episodes of either a benign stressor, i.e., isolation in a novel cage, or the more severe stressor of social subjugation. Results: As adults, hamsters with a history of social subjugation in adolescence show high levels of aggression toward intruders as compared to siblings subjugated in adulthood. Sibling controls subjugated in adulthood are highly submissive with little or no aggressive behavior. However, when subjugated in adulthood, hamsters with the earlier history of subjugation are no different than their sibling controls, i.e., adult subjugation promotes submissive behavior. Sexual motivation is high in adult hamsters with adolescent subjugation and testosterone levels remained stable over adulthood. In contrast, sibling controls subjugated in adulthood show lower levels of sexual motivation and reduced levels of testosterone. Release of cortisol during agonistic encounters is blunted in animals subjugated in adolescence but not adulthood. Measures of anxiety are reduced in hamsters with adolescent subjugation as compared to their sibling controls. Conclusion: These data demonstrate a pronounced difference in behavior and neuroendocrinology between adolescent and adult hamsters in their response to social subjugation and suggest adolescence is a resilient period in development. © 2005 Ferris et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.




Ferris, C. F., Messenger, T., & Sullivan, R. (2005). Behavioral and neuroendocrine consequences of social subjugation across adolescence and adulthood. Frontiers in Zoology, 2.

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