The temporal impact of chronic intermittent psychosocial stress on high-fat diet-induced alterations in body weight

Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2012 Jun;37(6):729-41. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2011.06.015. Epub 2011 Jul 23.


Background: Chronic stress and diet can independently or in concert influence the body's homeostasis over time. Thus, it is crucial to investigate the interplay of these parameters to gain insight into the evolution of stress-induced metabolic and eating disorders.

Methods: C57BL/6J mice were subjected to chronic psychosocial (mixed model of social defeat and overcrowding) stress in combination with either a high- or low-fat diet for three or six weeks. To determine the evolution of stress and dietary effects, changes in body weight, caloric intake and caloric efficiency were determined as well as circulating leptin, insulin, glucose and corticosterone levels and social avoidance behaviour.

Results: Exposure to stress for three weeks caused an increase in weight gain, in caloric intake and in caloric efficiency only in mice on a low-fat diet. However, after six weeks, only stressed mice on a high-fat diet displayed a pronounced inhibition of body weight gain, accompanied by reduced caloric intake and caloric efficiency. Stress decreased circulating leptin levels in mice on a low-fat diet after three weeks and in mice on a high-fat diet after three and six weeks of exposure. Plasma levels of insulin and markers of insulin resistance were blunted in mice on high-fat diet following six weeks of stress exposure. Social avoidance following chronic stress was present in all mice after three and six weeks.

Conclusions: This study describes the evolution of the chronic effects of social defeat/overcrowding stress in combination with exposure to high- or low-fat diet. Most importantly, we demonstrate that a six week chronic exposure to social defeat stress prevents the metabolic effects of high-fat diet, by inhibiting an increase in weight gain, caloric intake and efficiency and insulin resistance as well as in plasma leptin and insulin levels. This study highlights the importance of considering the chronic aspects of both parameters and their time-dependent interplay.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Blood Glucose / metabolism
  • Body Weight / physiology*
  • Chronic Disease
  • Corticosterone / blood
  • Crowding / psychology
  • Diet, High-Fat*
  • Energy Intake
  • Insulin / blood
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Leptin / blood
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Social Dominance
  • Social Environment
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology*
  • Weight Gain / physiology


  • Blood Glucose
  • Insulin
  • Leptin
  • Corticosterone