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Neuroscience. 2010 Feb 17;165(4):1025-30. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2009.11.023. Epub 2009 Nov 18.

Stress hormone synthesis in mouse hypothalamus and adrenal gland triggered by restraint is dependent on pituitary adenylate cyclase-activating polypeptide signaling.

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  • 1Section on Molecular Neuroscience, Laboratory of Cellular and Molecular Regulation, National Institute of Mental Health, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA.


Stress responses are elicited by a variety of stimuli and are aimed at counteracting direct or perceived threats to the well-being of an organism. In the mammalian central and peripheral nervous systems, specific cell groups constitute signaling circuits that indicate the presence of a stressor and elaborate an adequate response. Pituitary adenylate cyclase-activating polypeptide (PACAP) is expressed in central and peripheral parts of these circuits and has recently been identified as a candidate for regulation of the stress axis. In the present experiments, we tested the involvement of PACAP in the response to a psychological stressor in vivo. We used a restraint paradigm and compared PACAP-deficient mice (PACAP-/-) to wild-type controls (PACAP+/+). Acute secretion of corticosterone elicited by 1 h of restraint was found to be identical between genotypes, whereas sustained secretion provoked by 6 h of unrelieved restraint was 48% lower in PACAP-/-mice. Within the latter time frame, expression of messenger RNA (mRNA) encoding corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) was increased in the hypothalamus of wild type, but not PACAP-deficient mice. Expression of the activity-regulated transcription factors Egr1 (early growth response 1) and Fos (FBJ osteosarcoma oncogene) in the hypothalamus was rapidly and transiently induced by restraint in a PACAP-dependent fashion, a pattern that was also found in the adrenal glands. Here, abundance of transcripts encoding enzymes required for adrenomedullary catecholamine biosynthesis, namely TH (tyrosine hydroxylase) and PNMT (phenylethanolamine N-methyltransferase), was higher in PACAP+/+ mice after 6 h of unrelieved restraint. Our results suggest that sustained corticosterone secretion, synthesis of the hypophysiotropic hormone CRH in the hypothalamus, and synthesis of the enzymes producing the hormone adrenaline in the adrenal medulla, are controlled by PACAP signaling in the mouse. These findings identify PACAP as a major contributor to the stimulus-secretion-synthesis coupling that supports stress responses in vivo.

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