Cardiovascular Responses to Open-Field Stress in Rats: Sex Differences and Effects of Gonadal Hormones Academic Article uri icon


  • We studied sex differences in cardiovascular responses to stress using a new radio-telemetry model in which freely-moving Spontaneously Hypertensive rats (SHR) are exposed to open-field novelty stress. This model allowed simultaneous assessment of cardiovascular and behavioural responses to psychological stress. Female SHR in the diestrous stage of their estrous cycle had markedly greater pressor and tachycardic responses to open-field exposure when compared to either female rats not in diestrous or male SHR. Treatment of ovariectomized SHR with estrogen alone had no significant effect on cardiovascular reactivity, while a combined treatment of estrogen and progesterone slightly, but significantly attenuated their pressor response to open-field stress. In addition, treatment of castrated male rats with testosterone significantly enhanced their pressor responses to stress when compared to values obtained before treatment. None of the hormone treatments had any significant effect on heart rate responses to stress. Neither at different stages of the estrous cycle nor after hormone treatments were there any marked changes in behavioural responses in the open-field, making it unlikely that the differences in cardiovascular stress responses were caused by changes in behavioural activity. These data demonstrate differences in cardiovascular stress responses that seem to be dependent on the stage of the estrous cycle. They suggest that particularly androgens, such as testosterone, may enhance pressor responses to stress. On the other hand, a combination of estrogen and progesterone, rather than estrogen alone, may have a small attenuating effect on cardiovascular reactivity.

publication date

  • January 2000

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