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J Neurosci. 1993 Mar;13(3):1097-105.

Increased plasma ACTH responses to stress in nonhandled compared with handled rats require basal levels of corticosterone and are associated with increased levels of ACTH secretagogues in the median eminence.

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  • 1Developmental Neuroendocrinology Laboratory, Douglas Hospital Research Center, Montreal, Canada.


Postnatal handling of rat pups is known to alter permanently hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) responses to a wide variety of stressors. As adults, handled (H) and nonhandled (NH) animals also differ in sensitivity to the delayed negative-feedback effects of glucocorticoids on stress-induced HPA activity. However, it is not understood how handling alters neuroendocrine responses to stressful stimuli, and how differences in feedback sensitivity might account for changes in HPA activity both during and following stress. In the present studies, plasma ACTH responses to both restraint and ether stress were significantly greater in NH compared with H animals. Administration of 100 micrograms/kg corticosterone (B) immediately prior to restraint stress significantly decreased subsequent plasma ACTH responses to restraint to the same extent in H and NH animals, suggesting that H and NH animals do not differ in glucocorticoid fast feedback. H and NH animals adrenalectomized (ADX) 5 d prior to testing did not differ in plasma ACTH responses to restraint stress, demonstrating that the differences between the groups are dependent upon the presence of circulating B. However, the handling effect was apparent in ADX animals provided with a low level of B replacement (approximately 5-6 micrograms/dl). B replacement significantly decreased plasma ACTH levels under both basal conditions and in response to restraint stress in H/ADX rats. In contrast, although B replacement also decreased basal ACTH levels in ADX/NH rats, there were no differences in plasma ACTH responses to restraint between NH/ADX and NH/ADX+B animals.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

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