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Neuroscience. 2003;119(3):887-97.

Chronic stress attenuates glucocorticoid negative feedback: involvement of the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus.

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Pharmacology Department, Central Research Laboratories, Tsumura & Co., 3586 Yoshiwara, Ami-machi, Inashiki-gun, Ibaraki, 300-1192, Japan.


Disruption of the glucocorticoid negative feedback system is observed in approximate one half of human depressives, and a similar condition is induced in animals by chronic stress. This disruption is thought to involve down-regulation of glucocorticoid receptors (GRs) in the feedback sites of the brain. However, the responsible site of the brain has not been well elucidated. Here we examined the effects of chronic stress induced by water immersion and restraint (2 h/day) for 4 weeks followed by recovery for 10 days on the GR levels in the prefrontal cortex (PFC), hippocampus, and hypothalamus of rats using a Western immunoblot technique. In the PFC, the cytosolic GR levels were decreased, but the nuclear GR levels were not changed. In the hippocampus, the levels of cytosolic and nuclear GRs were increased. However, there were no marked changes in the GR levels in the hypothalamus. The changes in the cytosolic GR levels were confirmed at the mRNA level by an in situ hybridization technique. We next examined the suppressive effects of dexamethasone (DEX) infusions into these regions on the circulating corticosterone levels. When DEX was infused into the PFC or hippocampus of the chronically stressed rats, the suppressive response to DEX was abolished, but the response was normal in the hypothalamus. In addition, when DEX was injected systemically to the chronically stressed rats, the suppressive response to DEX was significantly attenuated. These results suggest that the abnormal changes in GRs in the higher centers of the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal axis are involved in the chronic stress-induced attenuation of the feedback. Since dysfunction of the PFC or hippocampus is implicated in the pathogenesis of depression, the present findings would help to understand the mechanisms underlying the disrupted feedback system and its relation to brain dysfunction in depression.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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