Social rearing effects on HPA axis activity over early development and in response to stress in rhesus monkeys

Dev Psychobiol. 1993 Dec;26(8):433-46. doi: 10.1002/dev.420260802.


Previous studies have found evidence of behavioral and psychophysiological differences between nonhuman primates reared in different social environments, however, few of these have employed longitudinal study of the animals over early development. In this study, HPA axis activity was assessed via measurement of ACTH and cortisol values over the first 6 months of life and in response to two stressful housing transitions in 48 infant rhesus monkeys that were either mother- or peer-reared. ACTH and cortisol values declined over the first 6 months in both rearing groups. Peer-reared monkeys showed lower levels of ACTH over the first 6 months of life than mother-reared, but the rearing groups did not differ in basal cortisol values over this period. Mother-reared animals showed a greater ACTH response to the mild stress of being moved to a new cage, and male monkeys showed higher values than females. Mother-reared animals showed the largest cortisol increase in response to the caging transition. Both groups showed increases in ACTH and cortisol in response to the more severe stress of separation from their rearing partners and housing with unfamiliar age-mates. Mother-reared animals again showed the largest increase in ACTH in response to these events, but increases in cortisol were similar among both sexes and rearing groups. These results suggest an interaction of sex and rearing history in response to stressful events.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone / physiology
  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Female
  • Housing, Animal
  • Hydrocortisone / physiology
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / physiology*
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Macaca mulatta*
  • Male
  • Maternal Behavior
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / physiology*
  • Sex Factors
  • Stress, Psychological


  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone
  • Hydrocortisone