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Abstract

We have previously shown that endogenous opioid systems (i.e. endorphins, enkephalins) are involved in the mediation of the behavioural and physiological effects of biting-fly exposure. Opioid mediated reductions in pain sensitivity, or, more appropriately, nociceptive sensitivity (latency of a foot-lifting response to a 50°C thermal surface), are evident in laboratory mice, Mus musculus domesticus, exposed to biting flies. Similar opioid-mediated reductions in pain sensitivity (opioid analgesia) are also seen after exposure to a variety of other natural stressors such as the threat of predation. Here, we demonstrate that brief (30-min) exposure of male mice to stable flies, Stomoxys calcitrans, significantly and synergistically augments either the concurrent or subsequent (60 min after fly exposure) analgesic effects induced by exposure to a predator (cat odour). These results demonstrate that the analgesic, and probably other opioid mediated behavioural and physiological stress responses induced by exposure to a relatively low number of biting flies, are markedly increased by the presence of another natural aversive stimulus. In addition, they show that biting-fly exposure significantly exacerbates the effects of a subsequent stressful stimulus. These findings raise a possible mechanism whereby exposure to a low number of biting flies, which by themselves may not appear to have a great impact, can have marked behavioural and physiological consequences.