Rapid effects of melatonin on hormonal and behavioral stressful responses in ewes

Vanessa Guesdon, Benoît Malpaux, Philippe Delagrange, Michael Spedding, Fabien Cornilleau, Didier Chesneau, József Haller, Elodie Chaillou

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10 Citations (Scopus)


Sheep are gregarious mammals with complex social interactions. As such, they are very sensitive to social isolation and constitute a relevant animal model to study specifically the biological consequences of social stress. We examined previously the behavioral and endocrine responses in ewes isolated socially in the familiar conspecific withdrawal model (FCW) and showed that stressful responses increased and maintenance behaviors decreased, confirming that social isolation is a strong stressor in sheep. Melatonin synchronizes seasonal and circadian rhythms; and several studies reported its implication in cognitive processes as emotion. Here we investigated its role in the modulation of social stressful responses. Firstly, we studied ewes in the FCW model during the day (characterized by low melatonin levels) and the night (characterized by high melatonin levels). We found lower stressful responses (significant lower levels of cortisol plasma, number of foot pawings, of circling attempts) during the night as compared to the day. To investigate whether these effects were due to melatonin or to darkness, we submitted ewes to FCW during the night with lights on, a condition that suppresses melatonin secretion. Ewes infused with melatonin under these conditions showed decreased stressful responses (significant lower levels cortisol plasma, number of vocalizations, time spent with the head out of the cage) as compared to ewes infused with saline. These findings demonstrate that melatonin diminishes the endocrine and behavioral impact of social isolation in ewes and support the idea that melatonin has a calming effect in socially stressful situations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1426-1434
Number of pages9
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Aug 1 2013


  • Calming effect
  • Cortisol
  • Emotional behaviors
  • Sheep
  • Social isolation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Endocrinology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry

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    Guesdon, V., Malpaux, B., Delagrange, P., Spedding, M., Cornilleau, F., Chesneau, D., Haller, J., & Chaillou, E. (2013). Rapid effects of melatonin on hormonal and behavioral stressful responses in ewes. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 38(8), 1426-1434. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psyneuen.2012.12.011