Effects of chronic social isolation on Wistar rat behavior and brain plasticity markers

Neuropsychobiology. 2012;66(2):112-9. doi: 10.1159/000338605. Epub 2012 Jul 17.


Chronic stress is a contributing risk factor in the development of psychiatric illnesses, including depressive disorders. The mechanisms of their psychopathology are multifaceted and include, besides others, alterations in the brain plasticity. Previously, we investigated the effects of chronic social stress in the limbic brain structures of Wistar rats (hippocampus, HIPPO, and prefrontal cortex, PFC) and found multiple characteristics that resembled alterations described in some clinical studies of depression. We extended our investigations and followed the behavior of stressed animals by the open field test (OFT) and forced swimming test (FST), and the expression and polysialylation of synaptic plasticity markers, neural cell adhesion molecule (NCAM) and L1, in the HIPPO and PFC. We also determined the adrenal gland mass and plasma corticosterone (CORT) as a terminal part of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis activity. Our data indicated that stressed animals avoided the central zone in the OFT and displayed decreased swimming, but prolonged immobility in the FST. The animals exhibited marked hypertrophy of the adrenal gland cortex, in spite of decreased serum CORT. Simultaneously, the stressed animals exhibited an increase in NCAM mRNA expression in the HIPPO, but not in the PFC. The synaptosomal NCAM of the HIPPO was markedly polysialylated, while cortical PSA-NCAM was significantly decreased. The results showed that chronic social isolation of Wistar rats causes both anxiety-like and depression-like behavior. These alterations are parallel with molecular changes in the limbic brain, including diminished NCAM sialylation in the PFC. Together with our previous results, the current observations suggest that a chronic social isolation model may potentially be used to study molecular mechanisms that underlie depressive symptomatology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Glands / pathology
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal*
  • Biomarkers
  • Corticosterone / metabolism
  • Hippocampus / metabolism*
  • Hypertrophy
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / metabolism
  • Leukocyte L1 Antigen Complex / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Neural Cell Adhesion Molecule L1 / metabolism
  • Neural Cell Adhesion Molecules / metabolism*
  • Neuronal Plasticity*
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / metabolism
  • Prefrontal Cortex / metabolism*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Sialic Acids / metabolism
  • Social Isolation*
  • Stress, Psychological / metabolism*
  • Synaptosomes / metabolism


  • Biomarkers
  • Leukocyte L1 Antigen Complex
  • Neural Cell Adhesion Molecule L1
  • Neural Cell Adhesion Molecules
  • Sialic Acids
  • polysialyl neural cell adhesion molecule
  • Corticosterone