Conditioned defeat in male and female Syrian hamsters

Kim L Huhman, Matia B Solomon, Marcus Janicki, Alvin C Harmon, Stacie M Lin, Jeris E Israel, Aaron M Jasnow
Hormones and Behavior 2003, 44 (3): 293-9
A brief exposure to social defeat in male Syrian hamsters (Mesocricetus auratus) leads to profound changes in the subsequent agonistic behavior exhibited by the defeated animals. Following defeat in the home cage of an aggressive conspecific, male hamsters will subsequently fail to defend their home territory even if the intruder is a smaller, nonaggressive male. This phenomenon has been called conditioned defeat. In Experiment 1, we examined the duration of conditioned defeat by repeatedly testing (every 3-5 days) defeated hamsters with a nonaggressive intruder. We found that conditioned defeat occurs in all defeated male hamsters and persists for a prolonged period of time (at least 33 days) in the majority of male hamsters tested despite the fact that these animals are never attacked by the nonaggressive intruders. In Experiment 2, we examined whether conditioned defeat could be induced in female Syrian hamsters. While conditioned defeat occurred in some females, they displayed only low levels of submissive/defensive behavior and, in contrast to males, the conditioned defeat response did not persist beyond the first test. These results suggest that in male hamsters conditioned defeat is a profound, persistent behavioral change characterized by a total absence of territorial aggression and by the frequent display of submissive and defensive behaviors. Conversely, social defeat in female hamsters does not appear to induce long-term behavioral changes. Finally, in Experiment 3, we determined that plasma adrenocorticotropin-like immunoreactivity increases in females following social defeat in a manner similar to that seen in males, suggesting that the disparate behavioral reactions of males and females are not due to sex differences in the release of, or response to, plasma adrenocorticotropin.


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