Allostasis, the concept of maintaining stability through change, has been proposed as a term and a model to replace the ambiguous term of stress, the concept of adequately or inadequately coping with threatening or unpredictable environmental stimuli. However, both the term allostasis and its underlying model have generated criticism. Here we propose the Reactive Scope Model, an alternate graphical model that builds on the strengths of allostasis and traditional concepts of stress yet addresses many of the criticisms. The basic model proposes divergent effects in four ranges for the concentrations or levels of various physiological mediators involved in responding to stress. (1) Predictive Homeostasis is the range encompassing circadian and seasonal variation - the concentrations/levels needed to respond to predictable environmental changes. (2) Reactive Homeostasis is the range of the mediator needed to respond to unpredictable or threatening environmental changes. Together, Predictive and Reactive Homeostasis comprise the normal reactive scope of the mediator for that individual. Concentrations/levels above the Reactive Homeostasis range is (3) Homeostatic Overload, and concentrations/levels below the Predictive Homeostasis range is (4) Homeostatic Failure. These two ranges represent concentrations/levels with pathological effects and are not compatible with long-term (Homeostatic Overload) or short-term (Homeostatic Failure) health. Wear and tear is the concept that there is a cost to maintaining physiological systems in the Reactive Homeostasis range, so that over time these systems gradually lose their ability to counteract threatening and unpredictable stimuli. Wear and tear can be modeled by a decrease in the threshold between Reactive Homeostasis and Homeostatic Overload, i.e. a decrease in reactive scope. This basic model can then be modified by altering the threshold between Reactive Homeostasis and Homeostatic Overload to help understand how an individual's response to environmental stressors can differ depending upon factors such as prior stressors, dominance status, and early life experience. We illustrate the benefits of the Reactive Scope Model and contrast it with the traditional model and with allostasis in the context of chronic malnutrition, changes in social status, and changes in stress responses due to early life experiences. The Reactive Scope Model, as an extension of allostasis, should be useful to both biomedical researchers studying laboratory animals and humans, as well as ecologists studying stress in free-living animals. © 2008 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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