Journal of Comparative Physiology B

, Volume 181, Issue 8, pp 1089–1100 | Cite as

Chronic stress in pregnant guinea pigs (Cavia aperea f. porcellus) attenuates long-term stress hormone levels and body weight gain, but not reproductive output

  • Hanna Schöpper
  • Rupert Palme
  • Thomas Ruf
  • Susanne Huber
Original Paper


Stress, when extreme or chronic, can have a negative impact on health and survival of mammals. This is especially true for females during reproduction when self-maintenance and investment in offspring simultaneously challenge energy turnover. Therefore, we investigated the effects of repeated stress during early- and mid-gestation on the maternal stress axis, body weight gain and reproductive output. Female guinea pigs (Cavia aperea f. porcellus, n = 14) were either stressed (treatment: exposure to strobe light in an unfamiliar environment on gestational day -7, 0, 7, 14, 21, 28, 35, 42) or left completely undisturbed (control) throughout pregnancy. Females of both groups received the same respective diets, and reproductive parameters were evaluated upon parturition. Additionally, hormonal data were obtained from blood and feces. The stress exposure induced a significant increase in plasma cortisol concentrations during the afternoon. In contrast to this short-term response in plasma cortisol concentrations, we found no significant differences in the levels of cortisol metabolites in feces collected after stress exposure between groups and even significantly decreased levels of fecal cortisol metabolites on non-stress days over time in treatment females. Among treatment females, gain in body weight was attenuated over gestation and body weight was lower compared to control females during lactation, especially in cases of large litter sizes. No differences could be seen in the reproductive parameters. We conclude that repeated stress exposure with strobe light during early- and mid-gestation results in a down-regulation of the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis and lower weight gain in treatment females, but has no effect on reproductive output.


Body mass Cortisol Gestation Guinea pig (Cavia aperea f. porcellusHypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis Reproduction 



Adrenocorticotropic hormone


Basal metabolic rate


Enzyme immunoassay


Fecal cortisol metabolites


Gestational day

HPA axis

Hypothalamus–pituitary–adrenal axis


Lactational day


Standard error of the mean


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Hanna Schöpper
    • 1
  • Rupert Palme
    • 2
  • Thomas Ruf
    • 1
  • Susanne Huber
    • 1
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Integrative Biology and Evolution, Research Institute of Wildlife EcologyUniversity of Veterinary MedicineViennaAustria
  2. 2.Department of Biomedical Sciences, Institute of BiochemistryUniversity of Veterinary MedicineViennaAustria
  3. 3.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of ViennaViennaAustria

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