Effects of chronic psychosocial stress on cardiac autonomic responsiveness and myocardial structure in mice

Tania Costoli, Alessandro Bartolomucci, Gallia Graiani, Donatella Stilli, Giovanni Laviola, Andrea Sgoifo

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47 Scopus citations


Repeated single exposures to social stressors induce robust shifts of cardiac sympathovagal balance toward sympathetic dominance both during and after each agonistic interaction. However, little evidence is available regarding possible persistent pathophysiological changes due to chronic social challenge. In this study, male CD-1 mice (n = 14) were implanted with a radiotelemetry system for electrocardiographic recordings. We assessed the effects of chronic psychosocial stress (15-day sensory contact with a dominant animal and daily 5-min defeat episodes) on 1) sympathovagal responsiveness to each defeat episode, as measured via time-domain indexes of heart rate variability (R-R interval, standard deviation of R-R interval, and root mean square of successive R-R interval differences), 2) circadian rhythmicity of heart rate across the chronic challenge (night phase, day phase, and rhythm amplitude values), and 3) amount of myocardial structural damage (volume fraction, density, and extension of fibrosis). This study indicated that there was habituation of acute cardiac autonomic responsiveness, i.e., the shift of sympathovagal balance toward sympathetic dominance was significantly reduced across repeated defeat episodes. Moreover, animals exhibited significant changes in heart rate rhythmicity, i.e., increments in day and night values and reductions in the rhythm amplitude, but these were limited to the first 5 days of chronic psychosocial stress. The volume fraction of fibrosis was sixfold larger than in control animals, because of the appearance of many microscopic scarrings. In summary, although mice appeared to adapt to chronic psychosocial stress in terms of acute cardiovascular responsiveness and heart rate rhythmicity, structural alterations occurred at the myocardial level.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)H2133-H2140
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Heart and Circulatory Physiology
Issue number6 55-6
StatePublished - Jun 2004


  • Cardiac fibrosis
  • Circadian rhythms
  • Heart rate variability
  • Social stress
  • Sympathovagal balance


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