Subordination stress: behavioral, brain, and neuroendocrine correlates

Behav Brain Res. 1993 Dec 20;58(1-2):113-21. doi: 10.1016/0166-4328(93)90096-9.


In mixed-sex rat groups consistent asymmetries in offensive and defensive behaviors of male dyads are associated with the development of dominance hierarchies. Subordinate males can be differentiated from dominants on the basis of both agonistic and non-agonistic behaviors, wound patterns, weight changes. Their behavior changes suggest chronic defensiveness and are also broadly isomorphic to many of the symptoms of depression; their voluntary alcohol consumption increases, and their life-spans are shortened. Both subordinate and dominant males tend to show organ change compared to non-grouped controls, with adrenal and spleen enlargement and thymus reduction. However, these changes appear to be more marked in subordinates, and only subordinates show reduced testes weights. Basal corticosterone (CORT) levels were sharply higher, and plasma testosterone (T) sharply lower, in subordinates compared to both dominants and controls, and reduced corticosterone binding globulin further enhanced free CORT for subordinates particularly. Many subordinates failed to show a normal CORT response to restraint stress. Subordinates also appear to show widespread changes in serotonin systems, with increased 5-HIAA/5-HT ratios in a number of brain areas, and alterations of 5-HT1A receptor binding at some sites. These changes suggest that subordination, a common and consistent feature of life for many animals living in social groups, may be a particularly relevant model for investigating the behavioral, neural and endocrine correlates of chronic stress.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aggression / physiology
  • Animals
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Dominance-Subordination*
  • Female
  • Male
  • Neurosecretory Systems / physiopathology*
  • Rats
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology*
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology