Timing matters: the interval between acute stressors within chronic mild stress modifies behavioral and physiologic stress responses in male rats

Chronic mild stress can lead to negative health outcomes. Frequency, duration, and intensity of acute stressors can affect health-related processes. We tested whether the temporal pattern of daily acute stressors (clustered or dispersed across the day) affects depression-related physiology. We used a rodent model to keep stressor frequency, duration, and intensity constant, and experimentally manipulated the temporal pattern of acute stressors delivered during the active phase of the day. Adult male Sprague-Dawley rats were exposed to one of three chronic mild stress groups: Clustered: stressors that occurred within 1 hour of each other (n = 21), Dispersed: stressors that were spread out across the active phase (n = 21), and Control: no stressors presented (n = 21). Acute mild stressors included noise, strobe lights, novel cage, cage tilt, wet bedding, and water immersion. Depression-related outcomes included: sucrose preference, body weight, circulating glucocorticoid (corticosterone) concentration after a novel acute stressor and during basal morning and evening times, and endotoxin-induced circulating interleukin-6 concentrations. Compared to control rats, those in the Clustered group gained less weight, consumed less sucrose, had a blunted acute corticosterone response, and an accentuated acute interleukin-6 response. Rats in the Dispersed group had an attenuated corticosterone decline during the active period and after an acute stressor compared to the Control group. During a chronic mild stress experience, the temporal distribution of daily acute stressors affected health-related physiologic processes. Regular exposure to daily stressors in rapid succession may predict more depression-related symptoms, whereas exposure to stressors dispersed throughout the day may predict diminished glucocorticoid negative feedback.

Stress (The International Journal on the Biology of Stress): Timing matters