Heat-shock proteins (Hsp) play an important role in stress physiology. Exposure to a variety of stressors will induce intracellular Hsp72, and this induction is believed to be beneficial for cell survival. In contrast, Hsp72 released during stress (extracellular Hsp72; eHsp72) activates pro-inflammatory responses. Clearly, physical stressors such as heat, cold, H2O2, intense exercise and tail shock will induce both intra- and extracellular Hsp72. The current study tested whether a psychological stressor, cat exposure, would also trigger this response. In addition, the potential role of adrenal hormones in the Hsp72 response was examined. Adult, male Sprague Dawley rats were either adrenalectomized (ADX) or sham operated. Ten days post-recovery, rats were exposed to either a cat with no physical contact or control procedures (n=5-6/group) for 2 h. Levels of intracellular Hsp72 were measured in the brain (frontal cortex, hippocampus, hypothalamus, dorsal vagal complex) and pituitary (ELISA). Levels of eHsp72 (ELISA) and corticosterone (RIA) were measured from serum obtained at the end of the 2-h stress period. Rats that were exposed to a cat had elevated intracellular Hsp72 in hypothalamus and dorsal vagal complex, and elevated eHsp72 and corticosterone in serum. Both the intra- and extracellular Hsp72 responses were blocked or attenuated by ADX. This study demonstrates that cat exposure can stimulate the Hsp72 response and that adrenal hormones contribute to this response. © 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
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