Stress-induced changes in circadian rhythms of body temperature and activity in rats are not caused by pacemaker changes

J Biol Rhythms. 1997 Feb;12(1):80-92. doi: 10.1177/074873049701200109.


Previous work has shown that social stress in rats (i.e., defeat by an aggressive male conspecific) causes a variety of behavioral and physiological changes including alterations in the daily rhythms of body temperature and activity. To study the role of the circadian pacemaker in these stress-induced changes, three experiments were performed, successively addressing pacemaker period, phase, and sensitivity to light. In all experiments, rats were subjected to social stress by placing them in the home cage of a dominant conspecific for 1 h. This was done on 2 consecutive days, between the second and fifth hours of the activity phase. Experimental animals were attacked by the resident and lost the fight as indicated by submissive behavior. Control animals were placed in an unfamiliar but clean and empty cage for 1 h. In Experiment 1, the effects of social stress on the period of the free-running activity rhythm were studied. Rats were individually housed under constant dim red light. Activity was measured with infrared detectors. Social defeat caused a reduction of activity for a number of days, but the period of the free-running rhythm was not affected. In Experiment 2, the authors studied whether social defeat induced acute phase shifts. Body temperature and activity were measured by means of radiotelemetry with intraperitoneally implanted transmitters. After the social interactions, experimental animals were kept under constant dim red light. Social stress caused a profound reduction in the amplitude of the body temperature and activity rhythm, but no significant phase shifts occurred. In Experiment 3, the authors studied whether social defeat affected the circadian pacemaker's sensitivity to light given that the size of light-induced phase shifts is thought to reflect pacemaker amplitude. Again, body temperature and activity were measured by means of telemetry. After double social defeat, animals were kept under continuous dim red light. One day after the second conflict, animals were subjected to a single 1-h light pulse (300 lux) at circadian time 14. The light pulse induced a phase delay of the body temperature rhythm, but there were no significant differences between the stress and control groups. The data indicate that stress-induced changes in activity and temperature rhythm, as well as behavioral and physiological changes found in earlier experiments, are not caused by changes in the circadian pacemaker. More generally, the data support the notion that overt rhythms are not always a reliable indication of pacemaker function.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aggression / physiology
  • Animals
  • Body Temperature / physiology*
  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology*
  • Light
  • Male
  • Motor Activity / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred Strains
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology*
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*