The present study investigated the effects of social defeat stress on the behaviours and expressions of 78-kDa glucose-regulated protein (Grp78), CCAAT/enhancer-binding protein (C/EBP) homologous protein (CHOP) and choline acetyltransferase (Chat) in the brains of adolescent mice. Adolescent male C57BL/6J mice were divided into two groups (susceptible and unsusceptible) after 10 d social defeat stress. In expt 1, behavioural tests were conducted and brains were processed for Western blotting on day 21 after stress. In expt 2, social avoidance tests were conducted and brains were subsequently processed for Western blotting on day 12 after stress. Chronic social defeat stress produced more pronounced depression-like behaviours such as decreased locomotion and social interaction, increased anxiety-like behaviours and immobility, and impaired memory performance in susceptible mice. Moreover, susceptible mice showed greater expression of Grp78 and CHOP in the amygdala (Amyg) on days 12 and 21 compared with the other groups. Susceptible and unsusceptible groups showed significant increases in Grp78 and CHOP expression in the prefrontal cortex (PFC) and hippocampus (Hipp) on day 12 compared with the control group; this persisted until day 21. The levels of Chat measured on days 12 and 21 were significantly lower in the PFC, Amyg and Hipp of all defeated mice compared with controls. The findings of the behavioural tests indicate that chronic social defeat in adolescents produces anxiety-like behaviours, social withdrawal, despair-like behaviours and cognitive impairment. The Grp78, CHOP and Chat results suggest that the selective response of endoplasmic reticulum stress proteins in the Amyg plays an important role in the vulnerability–stress model of depression.