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Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2002 Aug;73(1):147-58.

Multiple feedback mechanisms activating corticotropin-releasing hormone system in the brain during stress.

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  • 1Second Department of Internal Medicine, Kochi Medical School, Okoh-cho, Nankoku, Japan.


Stress-associated disorders such as melancholic depression are characterized by persistent hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) axis activation and intensive anxiety. Corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) appears to play an essential role in pathophysiology of such disorders. In an attempt to elucidate possible mechanisms underlying persistent activation of CRH in the central nervous system (CNS), we examined responses of hypothalamic and extrahypothalamic CRH systems to the stressors (immobilization stress or psychological stress) and interactions between these CRH systems and glucocorticoids in rats. We propose multiple feedback loops activating central CRH system: (1) attenuation of glucocorticoid-induced negative feedback on the activity of the hypothalamic and brainstem nuclei during chronic stress, (2) autoregulation of CRH biosynthesis in the hypothalamic paraventricular nucleus (PVN) through up-regulation of Type-1 CRH receptor (CRHR-1), and (3) glucocorticoid-mediated positive effects on the amygdaloid CRH system. Stress initially activates the hypothalamic CRH system, resulting in the hypersecretion of glucocorticoids from the adrenal gland. In addition, the psychological component of the stressor stimulates the amygdaloid CRH system. In the chronic phase of stress, down-regulation of GR in the PVN and other brain structures such as the locus coeruleus (LC) fails to restrain hyperfunction of the HPA axis, and persistent activation of the HPA axis further up-regulates the amygdaloid CRH system. Thus, the hypothalamic and the amygdaloid CRH systems cooperatively constitute stress-responsive, anxiety-producing neurocircuitry during chronic stress, which is responsible for the clinical manifestations of stress-associated disorders. Effects of tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), which appear to mitigate the above mentioned multiple feedback loop forming the vicious circle to activate central CRH systems, will also be discussed.

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