Winning agonistic encounters increases testosterone and androgen receptor expression in Syrian hamsters

Horm Behav. 2016 Nov;86:27-35. doi: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2016.09.002. Epub 2016 Sep 9.


Winning aggressive disputes is one of several experiences that can alter responses to future stressful events. We have previously tested dominant and subordinate male Syrian hamsters in a conditioned defeat model and found that dominant individuals show less change in behavior following social defeat stress compared to subordinates and controls, indicating a reduced conditioned defeat response. Resistance to the effects of social defeat in dominants is experience-dependent and requires the maintenance of dominance relationships for 14days. For this study we investigated whether winning aggressive interactions increases plasma testosterone and whether repeatedly winning increases androgen receptor expression. First, male hamsters were paired in daily 10-min aggressive encounters and blood samples were collected immediately before and 15min and 30min after the formation of dominance relationships. Dominants showed an increase in plasma testosterone at 15min post-interaction compared to their pre-interaction baseline, whereas subordinates and controls showed no change in plasma testosterone. Secondly, we investigated whether 14days of dominant social status increased androgen or estrogen alpha-receptor immunoreactivity in brain regions that regulate the conditioned defeat response. Dominants showed more androgen, but not estrogen alpha, receptor immuno-positive cells in the dorsal medial amygdala (dMeA) and ventral lateral septum (vLS) compared to subordinates and controls. Finally, we showed that one day of dominant social status was insufficient to increase androgen receptor immunoreactivity compared to subordinates. These results suggest that elevated testosterone signaling at androgen receptors in the dMeA and vLS might contribute to the reduced conditioned defeat response exhibited by dominant hamsters.

Keywords: Aggression; Androgen receptors; Estrogen alpha receptors; Medial amygdala; Resiliency; Testosterone.

MeSH terms

  • Aggression / physiology
  • Agonistic Behavior / physiology*
  • Androgens / pharmacology
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Conditioning, Psychological / physiology
  • Cricetinae
  • Dominance-Subordination*
  • Female
  • Male
  • Mesocricetus* / metabolism
  • Mesocricetus* / psychology
  • Receptors, Androgen / metabolism*
  • Social Environment
  • Stress, Psychological / metabolism
  • Testosterone / blood*


  • Androgens
  • Receptors, Androgen
  • Testosterone