Individual variation in cortisol responses to acute ‘on-back’ restraint in an outbred hamster

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An outbred species of dwarf hamster (Phodopus campbelli) was used to assess between-individual variability in the response to, and recovery from, a one-time stressor of 6 min of physical restraint in a subordinate, on-back, position. Four repeated plasma samples were drawn under home-cage isoflurane anesthesia from 33 males and 38 females 50 min before, and then 10, 60, and 120 min after the stress onset. Plasma cortisol concentrations were higher in females than males, but there was no evidence for a sex difference in response to the stressor. The expected cross-sectional increase (˜ 50 ng/ml) in response to the stressor, followed by recovery, was seen. However, there was extensive individual variation, ranging from no reaction to continuous decline from the initial to the final sample. Results were expressed in four ways (absolute concentration, relative concentration, and area under the curve relative to ground and relative to the stress-induced increase) and also standardized and subjected to hierarchical cluster analysis. Clusters failed to effectively partition the between-individual variation and did not cluster by sex, age, or housing conditions. The current study cautions against ignoring individual differences and suggests that outbred animal models might be particularly relevant to understanding stress-related pathological conditions.

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