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Brain Res. 1999 Dec 11;850(1-2):136-43.

Psychological stress increased corticotropin-releasing hormone mRNA and content in the central nucleus of the amygdala but not in the hypothalamic paraventricular nucleus in the rat.

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  • 12nd Department of Internal Medicine, Kochi Medical School, Japan.


The central administration of corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) to experimental animals sets into motion a coordinated series of physiological and behavioral events that promote survival during threatening situation. A large body of evidence suggest that CRH in the central nucleus of the amygdala (CEA) induces fear-related behaviors and is essential to fear conditioning; however, evidence of CRH-mediated activation of the amygdala under physiological situation is still limited. We report here a study of the impact of a psychological stressor on hypothalamic and amygdala CRH systems in the rat. Non-footshocked rats placed in a floored compartment surrounded by footshocked rats were defined as the psychological stress group. Rats were exposed to psychological stress for 15 min, and then sacrificed 1.5 and 3 h after cessation of stress. We found that our psychological stressor induced an increase in both CRH mRNA levels, as assessed by in situ hybridization histochemistry, and CRH content, as assessed by micropunch RIA, in the CEA. Exposure to the psychological stressor also caused a significant increase in CRH mRNA levels with a trend for an increase in CRH content in the dorsolateral subdivision of the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST) which is anatomically associated with the CEA. In contrast, psychological stress induced a small, but significant increase in type-1 CRH receptor (CRHR-1) mRNA in the hypothalamic paraventricular nucleus (PVN), while it failed to elevate either PVN CRH mRNA levels or content, CRH content in the median eminence (ME), or levels of plasma ACTH or corticosterone (CORT). Thus, in the context of a psychological stressor, the activation of the amygdala CRH system can occur without robust activation of the hypothalamic CRH system. In the light of previous data that the psychological stress-induced loss of sleep was reversed by the central administration of a CRH antagonist, these data suggest that CRH in the CEA may contribute to the psychological stress-evoked fear-related behavior such as hyperarousal. These data also indicate that in response to a psychological stressor, the amygdala CRH system is much more sensitive than is the CRH system emanating from the PVN.

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