Stress reactivity of the brain noradrenergic system in three rat strains differing in their neuroendocrine and behavioral responses to stress: Implications for susceptibility to stress-related neuropsychiatric disorders

M. C. Pardon, G. G. Gould, A. Garcia, L. Phillips, M. C. Cook, S. A. Miller, P. A. Mason, D. A. Morilak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

156 Scopus citations


The brain noradrenergic system is activated by stress, modulating the activity of forebrain regions involved in behavioral and neuroendocrine responses to stress. In this study, we characterized brain noradrenergic reactivity to acute immobilization stress in three rat strains that differ in their neuroendocrine stress response: the inbred Lewis (Lew) and Wistar-Kyoto (WKY) rats, and outbred Sprague-Dawley (SD) rats. Noradrenergic reactivity was assessed by measuring tyrosine hydroxylase mRNA expression in locus coeruleus, and norepinephrine release in the lateral bed nucleus of the stria terminalis. Behavioral measures of arousal and acute stress responsivity included locomotion in a novel environment, fear-potentiated startle, and stress-induced reductions in social interaction and open-arm exploration on the elevated-plus maze. Neuroendocrine responses were assessed by plasma adrenocorticotropic hormone. Compared to SD, adrenocorticotropic hormone responses of Lew rats were blunted, whereas those of WKY were enhanced. The behavioral effects of stress were similar in Lew and SD rats, despite baseline differences. Lew had similar elevations of tyrosine hydroxylase mRNA, and initially greater norepinephrine release in the lateral bed nucleus of the stria terminalis during stress, although both noradrenergic responses returned toward baseline more rapidly than in SD rats. WKY rats showed depressed baseline startle and lower baseline exploratory and social behavior than SD. However, unlike the Lew or SD rats, WKY exhibited a lack both of fear potentiation of the startle response and of stress-induced reductions in exploratory and social behavior, indicating attenuated stress responsivity. Acute noradrenergic reactivity to stress, measured by either tyrosine hydroxylase mRNA levels or norepinephrine release, was also attenuated in WKY rats. Thus, reduced arousal and behavioral responsivity in WKY rats may be related to deficient brain noradrenergic reactivity. This deficit may alter their ability to cope with stress, resulting in the exaggerated neuroendocrine responses and increased susceptibility to stress-related pathology exhibited by this strain.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)229-242
Number of pages14
Issue number1
StatePublished - Nov 15 2002



  • Arousal
  • Elevated-plus maze
  • Fear-potentiated startle
  • Norepinephrine
  • Social interaction
  • Stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)

Cite this