Stress plays an important role in the development of affective disorders. Women show a higher prevalence for these disorders then men. The course of a depressive episode is thought to be positively influenced by social support. We have used a chronic mild stress model in which rats received footshocks daily for 3 weeks. Since rats are social animals we hypothesised that social housing, as a possible model for human social support, might reduce the adverse effects of chronic stress. Brain activity after chronic stress was measured in several limbic brain areas with the neuronal activation marker c-fos. High behavioural activity due to housing rats under reversed light-dark conditions could be responsible for the observed high within group variability in some limbic regions. FOS- (ir) in the paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus (PVN) was increased in all stress-exposed groups, except for the socially housed females who showed increased FOS-ir in control condition. Individually housed males and socially housed females showed increased FOS-ir in the dorsal raphe (DRN). Amygdala nuclei were differentially affected by stress, gender and housing conditions. Also the mesolimbic dopaminergic system showed gender specific responses to stress and housing conditions. These results indicate that social support can enhance stress coping in female rats, whereas in males rats, group housing appears to increase the adverse effects of chronic stress, although the neurobiological mechanism is not simply a reduction or enhancement of stress-induced brain activation.