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Meal patterns and hypothalamic NPY expression during chronic social stress and recovery


In the present study, we examined meal patterns during and after exposure to the visible burrow system (VBS), a rodent model of chronic social stress, to determine how the microstructure of food intake relates to the metabolic consequences of social subordination. Male Long-Evans rats were housed in mixed-sex VBS colonies (4 male, 2 female) for 2 wk, during which time a dominance hierarchy formed [1 dominant male (DOM) and 3 subordinate males (SUB)], and then male rats were individually housed for a 3-wk recovery period. Controls were individually housed with females during the 2-wk VBS period and had no changes in ingestive behavior compared with a habituation period. During the hierarchy-formation phase of VBS housing, DOM and SUB had a reduced meal frequency, whereas SUB also had a reduced meal size. However, during the hierarchy-maintenance phase of VBS housing, DOM meal patterns did not differ from controls, whereas SUB continued to display a reduced food intake via less frequent meals. During recovery, DOM had comparable meal patterns to controls, whereas SUB had an increased meal size. Hypothalamic neuropeptide Y (NPY) mRNA levels were not different between these groups during the experimental period. Together, the results suggest that exposure to chronic social stress alters ingestive behavior both acutely and in the long term, which may influence the metabolic changes that accompany bouts of stress and recovery; however, these differences in meal patterns do not appear to be mediated by hypothalamic NPY.