Differences in basal and stress-induced HPA regulation of wild house mice selected for high and low aggression

Horm Behav. 2003 Jan;43(1):197-204. doi: 10.1016/s0018-506x(02)00013-2.


Male wild house mice, selected for short (SAL) and long (LAL) attack latency, show distinctly different behavioral strategies in coping with environmental challenges. In this study, we tested the hypothesis that this difference in coping style is associated with a differential stress responsiveness of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) system. SAL rather than LAL mice showed a clear fluctuation in circulating corticosterone concentrations around the circadian peak with significantly higher levels in the late light phase. LAL mice showed lower basal ACTH levels and higher thymic and spleen weights compared to SAL. Under basal conditions, glucocorticoid receptor (GR) and mineralocorticoid receptor (MR) mRNA in the hippocampus and corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) mRNA in the paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus were not different between the two lines. Forced swimming for 5 min induced high immobility behavior in LAL mice which was associated with an enhanced and prolonged corticosterone response as compared to SAL, while absolute ACTH levels did not differ. In addition, LAL mice showed an increase in hippocampal MR mRNA (but not GR) and hypothalamic CRH mRNA at 24 h after forced swimming. In conclusion, a genetic trait in coping style of wild house mice is associated with an idiosyncratic pattern of HPA activity, and greater responsiveness of physiological and molecular stress markers in LAL mice. In view of the profound differences in behavioral traits and stress system reactivity, these mouse lines genetically selected for attack latency present an interesting model for studying the mechanism underlying individual variation in susceptibility to stress-related psychopathology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone / blood
  • Aggression / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Animals, Wild
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Body Weight / physiology
  • Breeding
  • Corticosterone / blood
  • Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone / genetics
  • Gene Expression / physiology
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / physiology*
  • Mice
  • Organ Size / physiology
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / physiology*
  • RNA, Messenger / analysis
  • Receptors, Glucocorticoid / genetics
  • Receptors, Mineralocorticoid / genetics
  • Stress, Physiological / physiopathology*
  • Swimming


  • RNA, Messenger
  • Receptors, Glucocorticoid
  • Receptors, Mineralocorticoid
  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone
  • Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone
  • Corticosterone