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J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol. 1991;40(4-6):613-8.

Cytokines as modulators of the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis.

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  • 1Department of Research, University Hospital, Basel, Switzerland.


The hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is stimulated during the course of certain immune, inflammatory and neoplastic processes. IL-1 is an important immunologically derived cytokine mediating the stimulation of this axis, although not the only one. We have compared the relative potencies of the cytokines IL-1, IL-6 and tumor necrosis factor (TNF), which share several biological actions, for stimulating ACTH and corticosterone output in freely-moving rats. Although all three cytokines can stimulate the HPA axis, IL-1 was the most potent. This effect of IL-1 was also present during the neonatal period, when the response of the HPA axis to acute stress is reduced in rodents. The results support the existence of an immune-HPA axis circuit. The biological and clinical relevance of this circuit is discussed.

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