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Stress. 2011 Jul;14(4):357-67. doi: 10.3109/10253890.2010.536279. Epub 2011 Mar 27.

Signal transduction in the hypothalamic corticotropin-releasing factor system and its clinical implications.

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Department of Endocrinology and Metabolism, Hirosaki University Graduate School of Medicine, 5 Zaifu-cho, Hirosaki, Aomori 036-8562, Japan.


Corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) is a major regulatory peptide in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis under stress conditions. In response to stress, CRF is produced in the hypothalamic paraventricular nucleus. Forskolin- or pituitary adenylate cyclase-activating polypeptide-stimulated CRF gene transcription is mediated by the cyclic AMP (cAMP) response element on the CRF 5'-promoter region. Estrogens enhance activation of the CRF gene in stress, while inducible cAMP-early repressor suppresses the stress response via inhibition of the cAMP-dependent CRF gene. Glucocorticoid-dependent repression of cAMP-stimulated CRF promoter activity is mediated by both the negative glucocorticoid-response element and the serum-response element, while interleukin-6 (IL-6) stimulates the CRF gene. Suppressor of cytokine signaling-3, stimulated by IL-6 and cAMP, is involved in the negative regulation of CRF gene expression. Such complex mechanisms contribute to stress responses and homeostasis in the hypothalamus. Moreover, disruption of the HPA axis may cause a number of diseases related to stress. For example, CRF-induced p21-activated kinase 3 mRNA expression may be related to the proliferation of corticotrophs in Nelson's syndrome. A higher molecular weight form of immunoreactive β-endorphin, putative proopiomelanocortin (POMC), is increased in CRF-knockout mice, suggesting the important role of CRF in the processing of POMC through changes in prohormone convertase type-1 expression levels.

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