Neurochemical, endocrine and immunological responses to stress in young and old Fischer 344 male rats

Stanley A. Lorens, Norio Hata, Robert J. Handa, Louis D. Van de Kar, Marianne Guschwan, Joanna Goral, John M. Lee, Margaret E. Hamilton, Cynthia L. Bethea, John Clancy

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98 Scopus citations


Two experiments were performed. In the first, a 20 min conditioned emotional response (CER) paradigm was used to compare the neurochemical, endocrine and immunological responses to stress of 7- and 22-month-old Fischer 344 (F344) male rats. In the second, corticosterone levels 20 min following ether stress, and regional brain type I and II corticosterone receptor densities were examined using 7- and 17.5-month-old F344 male rats. Dopamine (DA) metabolism in old nonstressed rats was significantly reduced in the medial frontal cortex, neostriatum, nucleus accumbens and hypothalamus, but not in the amygdala. The CER procedure, nevertheless, increased medial frontal cortical, nucleus accumbens and amygdaloid DA turnover in both the young and old rats. The young and old nonstressed rats did not evidence differences in norepinephrine (NE) and serotonin (5-HT) concentrations. However, stress resulted in a decrease in medial frontal cortex NE content in the young but not in the old rats. In contrast, the CER procedure resulted in increased medial frontal cortical 5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid (5-HIAA) and hypothalamic 5-HT levels in old but not in young animals. These observations suggest age-related differences in the response of central NE and 5-HT systems to stress. Ether and the CER procedure led to exaggerated corticosterone responses in the old rats (17.5 and 22 month, respectively). Hippocampal type I but not type II corticosterone receptors were decreased by 47% in the 17.5-month-old rats. Thus, age-related changes in hippocampal corticosterone receptor types do not occur in unison, and the exacerbated corticosterone response to stress precedes the reported down-regulation of hippocampal type II corticosterone receptors in aged rats. Age-related changes were not observed in the concentrations of corticosterone receptors in other brain regions, or in the prolactin response to stress. The old rats, however, evidenced a reduction in the availability of the renin substrate, angiotensinogen, and in stress-induced renin secretion. Immune function was impaired in the old nonstressed rats, and further compromised by exposure to the CER procedure. In comparison to the young control rats, the old nonstressed rats showed an increased percentage of splenic large granular lymphocytes, reduced splenic natural killer cytotoxicity, and impaired Con-A-stimulated splenic T lymphocyte proliferation. Reductions in T splenic cell proliferation and natural killer cytotoxicity were observed in the young rats subjected to the CER paradigm, but not to the same extent as in the old rats. These observations indicate that aging male F344 rats evidence major alterations in basal central monoamine, endocrine and immune functions, and an increased sensitivity of these systems to stress.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)139-150
Number of pages12
JournalNeurobiology of Aging
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1990


  • Aging
  • Amygdala
  • Angiotensinogen
  • Conditioned emotional response paradigm
  • Corticosterone
  • Corticosterone receptors
  • Dopamine
  • Fischer 344 male rats
  • Hippocampus
  • Hypothalamus
  • Immune function
  • Large granular lymphocytes
  • Medial frontal cortex
  • Natural killer cells
  • Neostriatum
  • Norepinephrine
  • Nucleus accumbens
  • Prolactin
  • Renin
  • Serotonin
  • Stress
  • T lymphocytes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • Aging
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Developmental Biology
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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