, Volume 224, Issue 1, pp 133–143 | Cite as

Social rank, chronic ethanol self-administration, and diurnal pituitary–adrenal activity in cynomolgus monkeys

  • Christa M. Helms
  • Megan N. McClintick
  • Kathleen A. Grant
Original Investigation



Dominance hierarchies affect ethanol self-administration, with greater intake among subordinate animals compared to dominant animals. Excessive ethanol intake disrupts circadian rhythms. Diurnal rhythms of the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis have not been characterized in the context of ethanol self-administration with regard to social rank.


This study aimed to determine whether diurnal pituitary–adrenal hormonal rhythms account for differences between social ranks in ethanol self-administration or are differentially affected by ethanol self-administration between social ranks.


During alternating individual (n = 11–12) and social (n = 3 groups) housing of male cynomolgus monkeys (Macaca fascicularis), diurnal measures of cortisol and adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) were obtained from plasma samples three times per week. Social rank was determined, ethanol (4 %, w/v) self-administration was induced, and then the monkeys were allowed a choice of water or ethanol for 22 h/day for 49 weeks.


For all social ranks, plasma ACTH was elevated during social housing, but cortisol was stable, although greater among dominant monkeys. Ethanol self-administration blunted the effect of social housing, cortisol, and the diurnal rhythm for both hormones, regardless of daily ethanol intake (1.2–4.2 g/kg/day). Peak ACTH and cortisol were more likely to be observed in the morning during ethanol access. Ethanol, not vehicle, intake was lower during social housing across social ranks. Only dominant monkeys showed significantly lower blood–ethanol concentration during social housing.


There was a low threshold for disruption of diurnal pituitary rhythms by ethanol drinking, but sustained adrenal corticosteroid rhythms. Protection against heavy drinking among dominant monkeys may have constrained ethanol intoxication, possibly to preserve dominance rank.


Ethanol HPA axis Stress Monkey Cortisol ACTH 



This work and preparation of the manuscript was supported by RR000163, AA019431, AA019355, AA10760, AA13541, AA13510, and T32AA007468.

Supplementary material

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Supplemental Fig. 1

Plasma ACTH and cortisol across the experiment among individual monkeys housed together in rack 1 (JPEG 85.0 kb)

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High resolution image (TIFF 644 kb)
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Supplemental Fig. 2

Plasma ACTH and cortisol across the experiment among individual monkeys housed together in rack 2 (JPEG 111 kb)

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High resolution image (TIFF 756 kb)
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Supplemental Fig. 3

Plasma ACTH and cortisol across the experiment among individual monkeys housed together in rack 3 (JPEG 68 kb)

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High resolution image (TIFF 486 kb)
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Supplemental Fig. 4

Mean weekly ethanol (closed) and vehicle (open) intake across the experiment among individual monkeys housed together in rack 1 (JPEG 36 kb)

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High resolution image (TIFF 213 kb)
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Supplemental Fig. 5

Mean weekly ethanol (closed) and vehicle (open) intake across the experiment among individual monkeys housed together in rack 2 (JPEG 85 kb)

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High resolution image (TIFF 515 kb)
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Supplemental Fig. 6

Mean weekly ethanol (closed) and vehicle (open) intake across the experiment among individual monkeys housed together in rack 3 (JPEG 78 kb)

213_2012_2707_MOESM6_ESM.tif (513 kb)
High resolution image (TIFF 512 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christa M. Helms
    • 1
  • Megan N. McClintick
    • 1
  • Kathleen A. Grant
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Oregon National Primate Research CenterOregon Health and Science UniversityBeavertonUSA
  2. 2.Department of Behavioral NeuroscienceOregon Health and Science UniversityPortlandUSA

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