Effects of chronic stress: A comparison between tethered and loose sows

F. Josef van der Staay*, Teun Schuurman, Marcel Hulst, Mari Smits, Jos Prickaerts, Gunter Kenis, S. Mechiel Korte

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The present study aimed to investigate whether long-lasting, recurrent tethering of sows leads to enduring effects on measures that may be indicative of chronic stress. Sows that had experienced tethering for about 1.5 or 4.5 years and age-matched sows kept in a social housing system (loose sows) were compared. Immediately after slaughter, blood samples were taken to measure plasma cortisol levels, and the brain, spleen, and adrenals were dissected and weighed. Gene expression in the frontal cortex and hippocampus was analyzed. Plasma cortisol levels were higher in the tethered sows than in the loose sows. The older, but not the younger, tethered sows had heavier adrenal glands than their loose counterparts. The weight of the spleen was not affected by the housing conditions, but the pituitary gland was lighter in tethered sows than in loose sows. Microarray analyses revealed an increased expression of beta-globin mRNA in the hippocampus and to a lesser extent in the frontal cortex of the older tethered sows, compared with the older loose sows. Taken together, the findings indicate that chronically stressed pigs develop depression-like symptoms. However, it can be questioned whether the pig subjected to repeated, long-term stress can be regarded an animal model of major depression.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)154-164
JournalPhysiology & Behavior
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 11 May 2010


  • Animal model
  • Depression
  • Gene expression
  • beta-globin, IGF-II
  • Cortisol
  • Frontal cortex
  • Hippocampus
  • Glucocorticoid receptor
  • Mineralocorticoid receptor


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