Social stress in tree shrews as an animal model of depression: an example of a behavioral model of a CNS disorder

CNS Spectr. 2005 Mar;10(3):182-90. doi: 10.1017/s1092852900010038.


Animal models are invaluable in preclinical research on human psychopathology. Valid animal models to study the pathophysiology of depression and specific biological and behavioral responses to antidepressant drug treatments are of prime interest. In order to improve our knowledge of the causal mechanisms of stress-related disorders such as depression, we need animal models that mirror the situation seen in patients. One promising model is the chronic psychosocial stress paradigm in male tree shrews. Coexistence of two males in visual and olfactory contact leads to a stable dominant/subordinate relationship, with the subordinates showing obvious changes in behavioral, neuroendocrine, and central nervous activity that are similar to the signs and symptoms observed during episodes of depression in patients. To discover whether this model, besides its "face validity" for depression, also has "predictive validity," we treated subordinate animals with the tricyclic antidepressant clomipramine and found a time-dependent recovery of both endocrine function and normal behavior. In contrast, the anxiolytic diazepam was ineffective. Chronic psychosocial stress in male tree shrews significantly decreased hippocampal volume and the proliferation rate of the granule precursor cells in the dentate gyrus. These stress-induced changes can be prevented by treating the animals with clomipramine, tianeptine, or the selective neurokinin receptor antagonist L-760,735. In addition to its apparent face and predictive validity, the tree shrew model also has a "molecular validity" due to the degradation routes of psychotropic compounds and gene sequences of receptors are very similar to those in humans. Although further research is required to validate this model fully, it provides an adequate and interesting non-rodent experimental paradigm for preclinical research on depression.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antidepressive Agents / therapeutic use
  • Arousal / physiology
  • Dentate Gyrus / physiopathology
  • Depressive Disorder / drug therapy
  • Depressive Disorder / physiopathology
  • Depressive Disorder / psychology*
  • Disease Models, Animal*
  • Dominance-Subordination
  • Hippocampus / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / urine
  • Male
  • Receptors, Neurotransmitter / physiology
  • Stress, Psychological / complications*
  • Tupaiidae / psychology*


  • Antidepressive Agents
  • Receptors, Neurotransmitter
  • Hydrocortisone