Individual housing induces altered immuno-endocrine responses to psychological stress in male mice

Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2003 May;28(4):540-58. doi: 10.1016/s0306-4530(02)00039-2.


Social isolation and lack of social support have deleterious effects on health, thus being regarded as one of the most relevant causes of diseases in human and other mammalian species. However, only few are the studies aimed at evaluating the psychoneuroimmunological functions of individually housed subjects. The present study was designed to understand how the behavior and the physiology of male house mice might be affected by individual housing. We first analyzed whether individual housing of different duration (1-42 days) would result in immuno-endocrine dysfunction (experiment 1). Then we investigated whether housing conditions would affect the reaction to an acute mild psychological stress (experiments 2 and 3). There were three main findings: first, individually housing mice for increasing time periods did not induce any major immuno-endocrine effects compared to a stable sibling group housing. Therefore, prolonged isolation does not seem to dramatically impair mice immuno-endocrine functions. Second, when exposed to a mild acute stress, i.e. forced exposure to a novel environment, isolated mice showed higher basal corticosterone and lower type 1 (IL-2) and type 2 (IL-4) cytokines as well as splenocytes proliferation compared to group housed male mice. Finally, when faced with a free choice between a novel environment and their home cage, individually housed mice showed reduced neophobic responses resulting in increased exploration of the novel environment, thus suggesting a low anxiety profile. Altogether, our findings suggest that individual housing in itself does not change immunocompetence and corticosterone level, but does affect reactivity to a stressor. In fact, individually housed mice showed high behavioral arousal, as well as altered immuno-endocrine parameters, when challenged with mild psychological novelty-stress.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / physiology
  • Animals
  • Body Weight / physiology
  • Corticosterone / blood
  • Dominance-Subordination
  • Endocrine System / physiology
  • Housing, Animal
  • Interferon-gamma / blood
  • Interleukin-10 / blood
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Neuroimmunomodulation / physiology*
  • Social Environment
  • Social Isolation / psychology*
  • Stress, Psychological / immunology*
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*


  • Interleukin-10
  • Interferon-gamma
  • Corticosterone