Emotional stress affects cellular integrity in many tissues including the heart. Much less is known about the effects of social stress. We studied the effect of emotional (immobilization with or without cold exposure) or social (intermale confrontation) stress in mice. Tissue injury was measured by means of the release of enzyme activities to blood plasma: lactate dehydrogenase (LDH), creatine kinase (CK), aspartate transaminase (AST), and alanine transaminase (ALT). Tape-immobilization increased all these activities in the plasma. AST-ALT ratio was also increased in these animals. Electrophoretic analysis of CK isoenzymes showed the appearance of CK-MB. These results indicate that the heart was injured in immobilized mice. Analysis of LDH isoenzymes and measurement of α-hydroxybutyrate dehydrogenase (HBDH) activity suggests that other tissues, in addition to the heart, contribute to the increase in plasma LDH activity. Restraint in small cylinders increased plasma LDH, CK, AST, and ALT activities, but to lower levels than in tape immobilization. Because the decrease in liver glycogen and the increase in plasma epidermal growth factor (EGF) were also smaller in restraint than in the tape-immobilization model of emotional stress, we conclude that the former is a less intense stressor than the latter. Cold exposure during the restraint period altered the early responses to stress (it enhanced liver glycogen decrease, but abolished the increase in plasma EGF concentration). Cold exposure during restraint enhanced heart injury, as revealed by the greater increase in CK and AST activities. Intermale confrontation progressively decreased liver glycogen content. Plasma EGF concentration increased (to near 100 nM from a resting value of 0.1 nM) until 60 minutes, and decreased thereafter. Confrontation also affected cellular integrity in some tissues, as indicated by the rise in plasma LDH activity. However, in this type of stress, the heart appeared to be specifically protected because there was no increase in plasma CK activity, and both AST and ALT increased, but the AST-ALT ratio remained constant. Habituation to restraint (1 h/d, 4 days) made mice resistant to restraint-induced tissue injury as indicated by the lack of an increase in plasma LDH, CK, AST, or ALT activities. Similar general protection against homotypic stress-induced injury was observed in mice habituated to intermale confrontation.