Adaptation to prolonged or repeated stress – comparison between rat strains showing intrinsic differences in reactivity to acute stress

Firdaus S. Dhabhar, Bruce S. McEwen, Robert L. Spencer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

225 Scopus citations


Sprague-Dawley (SD), Fischer 344 (F344) and Lewis (LEW) rats are used in a wide variety of laboratory studies. Compared to SD and LEW rats, F344 rats show significantly greater activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis in response to acute stress, or to immunologic challenge. These differences in HPA axis responsivity have been the basis for numerous studies investigating strain differences in immunological and behavioral parameters. However, strain differences in the adaptation of the HPA axis response to prolonged stress, or to repeated stress, have not been investigated. This series of studies demonstrates that F344 rats maintain significantly higher ACTH and corticosterone levels than SD and LEW rats during a single prolonged stress session. Furthermore, F344 rats show virtually no habituation or adaptation of the corticosterone stress response during a single prolonged (4 h) stress session, or during stress sessions repeated over a period of 10 days. In contrast, SD and LEW rats show habituation both within and across stress sessions. Strain differences in HPA axis responsivity are also reflected in the significant adrenal hypertrophy observed in F344 rats (but not in SD or LEW rats) following repeated stress. These results show that strain differences in HPA axis responsivity, which are observed under conditions of acute stress, are further amplified during prolonged or repeated stress. These differences under prolonged or repeated stress conditions may consequently magnify the behavioral and immunological differences observed between strains under basal as well as challenged conditions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)360-368
Number of pages9
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jan 1 1997
Externally publishedYes


  • Adrenal hypertrophy
  • Adrenal steroids
  • Chronic
  • Corticotropin
  • Fischer 344 rats
  • Habituation
  • Lewis rats
  • Stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Endocrinology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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