Dietary fatty acids modulate cortisol concentrations and social dominance during social confrontations in adolescent male guinea pigs

Matthias Nemeth, Daniela Schuster, Eva Millesi, Bernard Wallner

The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA)-axis and related glucocorticoid concentrations regulate physiology and behavior, which can be modulated by nutritional conditions, particularly by the dietary fatty acid composition. Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) have been shown to promote hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA)-axis functions, whereas saturated fatty acids (SFAs) in general produce adverse effects and even increase baseline glucocorticoid concentrations. Glucocorticoids (e.g. cortisol) were further documented to modulate the establishment of dominance relationships, while the involvement of dietary fatty acids remains understudied. This study focused on different effects of PUFAs and SFAs on cortisol concentrations and social dominance in male guinea pigs. Three groups of animals were maintained on diets high in PUFAs (10 % w/w walnut oil), SFAs (10 % w/w coconut fat), or on an untreated control diet starting already prenatally. During adolescence, at an age of 60, 90, and 120 days, each individual's saliva cortisol concentrations and hierarchy index (calculated by initiated and received agonistic behavior) were measured during basal group housing conditions and stressful social confrontations with unfamiliar individuals of the other groups. SFA males showed highest baseline cortisol concentrations, lowest cortisol responses to social confrontations, and became subdominant. PUFA and control males showed significant cortisol responses. However, while control males became dominant during social confrontations, the hierarchy index in PUFA males decreased with age. Individual hierarchy indices during consecutive social confrontations revealed a high consistency. The findings presented here indicate that dietary fatty acids differently affect HPA-axis functions and social dominance but the underlying mechanisms remain to be determined.

Department of Behavioral and Cognitive Biology
Publication date
Peer reviewed
Austrian Fields of Science 2012
106051 Behavioural biology
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