Sounds of danger and post-traumatic stress responses in wild rodents: ecological validity of a translational model of post-traumatic stress disorder

Hagit Cohen, Michael A. Matar, Doron Todder, Carmit Cohen, Joseph Zohar, Hadas Hawlena, Zvika Abramsky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In the wild, animals face a highly variable world full of predators. Most predator attacks are unsuccessful, and the prey survives. According to the conventional perspective, the fear responses elicited by predators are acute and transient in nature. However, the long-term, non-lethal effects of predator exposure on prey behavioral stress sequelae, such as anxiety and post-traumatic symptoms, remain poorly understood. Most experiments on animal models of anxiety-related behavior or post-traumatic stress disorder have been carried out using commercial strains of rats and mice. A fundamental question is whether laboratory rodents appropriately express the behavioral responses of wild species in their natural environment; in other words, whether behavioral responses to stress observed in the laboratory can be generalized to natural behavior. To further elucidate the relative contributions of the natural selection pressures influences, this study investigated the bio-behavioral and morphological effects of auditory predator cues (owl territorial calls) in males and females of three wild rodent species in a laboratory set-up: Acomys cahirinus; Gerbillus henleyi; and Gerbillus gerbillus. Our results indicate that owl territorial calls elicited not only “fight or flight” behavioral responses but caused PTSD-like behavioral responses in wild rodents that have never encountered owls in nature and could cause, in some individuals, enduring physiological and morphological responses that parallel those seen in laboratory rodents or traumatized people. In all rodent species, the PTSD phenotype was characterized by a blunting of fecal cortisol metabolite response early after exposure and by a lower hypothalamic orexin-A level and lower total dendritic length and number in the dentate gyrus granule cells eight days after predator exposure. Phenotypically, this refers to a significant functional impairment that could affect reproduction and survival and thus fitness and population dynamics.

Original languageEnglish
JournalMolecular Psychiatry
StateAccepted/In press - 1 Jan 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Molecular Biology


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