Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Kim L. Huhman, PhD - Chair

Second Advisor

Aras Petrulis, PhD

Third Advisor

H. Elliott Albers, PhD

Fourth Advisor

Larry J. Young, PhD


Social conflict is a part of everyday life, and it can be a potent stressor for both humans and other animals. In the laboratory, when two Syrian hamsters (Mesocricetus auratus) compete for territory, a dominance hierarchy is quickly formed. Becoming subordinate is a significant stressor resulting in increased release of adrenocorticotropic hormone, β-endorphin, and cortisol. Defeated hamsters will also subsequently fail to display territorial aggression in future social encounters and will instead display increased submissive behavior, even in the presence of a smaller, non-aggressive intruder. This change in behavior is consistent and long-lasting and has been termed conditioned defeat (CD). Corticotropin releasing factor (CRF) is an important neuropeptide in the control of the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis response to stress. It is also involved in a number of behaviors such as anxiety, stress responding, food intake, learning, and memory. The widespread distribution of CRF, CRF-like peptides, and CRF receptors, particularly in brain sites related to anxiety, fear, and stress responses, suggests a role for CRF and CRF-like peptides in modulating emotional responses other than via HPA axis activity. It has also been shown that CRF may have a role in the acquisition and expression of CD. Non-specific and CRF type 2-specific CRF antagonists reduce the acquisition and expression of CD in male hamsters while injection of a CRF type 1-specific antagonist does not. Therefore, the goal of this dissertation was to investigate the role of CRF type 1 and 2 receptors in CD in hamsters and to identify neuroanatomical locations where CRF may be acting. It was found that non-specific or CRF type 1 receptor specific agonists enhance the expression, but not acquisition, of CD. Further, these agonists appear to enhance aggressive behavior in animals that were not previously defeated, suggesting a modulatory role for CRF type 1 receptors in agonistic behavior that depends on an animal’s previous social experience. Further, localization of CRF receptors was determined in hamster brain in sites thought important for CD and agonistic behavior, but changes in receptor binding following defeat were not observed. Implications of these results and future directions are discussed.


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Psychology Commons