The effects of chronic stress on hippocampal morphology and function: An evaluation of chronic restraint paradigms

Katie J. McLaughlin, Juan L. Gomez, Sarah E. Baran, Cheryl Conrad

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

254 Scopus citations


Chronic restraint stress for 6  h/21 days causes hippocampal CA3 apical dendritic retraction, which parallels spatial memory impairments in male rats. Recent research suggests that chronic immobilization stress for 2  h/10 days induces CA3 dendritic retraction [Vyas, A., Mitra, R., Shankaranarayana Rao, B.S., Chattarji, S., 2002. Chronic stress induces contrasting patterns of dendritic remodeling in hippocampal and amygdaloid neurons. J. Neurosci. 22, 6810-6818.] and questions whether CA3 dendritic retraction and spatial memory deficits can be produced sooner than found following 6  h/21 days of restraint stress. Therefore, this study investigated the effects of four different durations of chronic restraint stress (varied by hours/day and total number of days) and the subsequent effects on hippocampal CA3 morphology and spatial memory in the same male Sprague-Dawley rats. The results showed that only rats exposed to the 6  h/21 days restraint paradigm exhibited CA3 apical dendritic retraction, consistent spatial memory deficits, and decreased body weight gain compared to experimental counterparts and controls. While chronically stressing a rat with wire mesh restraint has a physical component, it acts primarily as a psychological stressor, and these findings support the interpretation that chronic psychological stress produces hippocampal-dependent cognitive deficits that are consistent with hippocampal structural changes. Differences in stress effects observed across different studies may be due to rat strain, type of stressor, and housing conditions; however, the current findings support the use of chronic restraint stress, with wire mesh, for 6  h/21 days as a reliable and efficient method to produce psychological stress and to cause CA3 dendritic retraction and spatial memory deficits in male Sprague-Dawley rats.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)56-64
Number of pages9
JournalBrain Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Aug 3 2007


  • Chronic restraint stress
  • Hippocampus
  • Spatial memory
  • Sprague-Dawley

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • Molecular Biology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Developmental Biology


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