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Stress. 2013 Nov;16(6):664-77. doi: 10.3109/10253890.2013.840282. Epub 2013 Oct 1.

Stressor-specific effects of sex on HPA axis hormones and activation of stress-related neurocircuitry.

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Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, University of Colorado at Boulder , Boulder, CO , USA.


Experiencing stress can be physically and psychologically debilitating to an organism. Women have a higher prevalence of some stress-related mental illnesses, the reasons for which are unknown. These experiments explore differential HPA axis hormone release in male and female rats following acute stress. Female rats had a similar threshold of HPA axis hormone release following low intensity noise stress as male rats. Sex did not affect the acute release, or the return of HPA axis hormones to baseline following moderate intensity noise stress. Sensitive indices of auditory functioning obtained by modulation of the acoustic startle reflex by weak pre-pulses did not reveal any sexual dimorphism. Furthermore, male and female rats exhibited similar c-fos mRNA expression in the brain following noise stress, including several sex-influenced stress-related regions. The HPA axis response to noise stress was not affected by stage of estrous cycle, and ovariectomy significantly increased hormone release. Direct comparison of HPA axis hormone release to two different stressors in the same animals revealed that although female rats exhibit robustly higher HPA axis hormone release after restraint stress, the same effect was not observed following moderate and high intensity loud noise stress. Finally, the differential effect of sex on HPA axis responses to noise and restraint stress cannot readily be explained by differential social cues or general pain processing. These studies suggest the effect of sex on acute stress-induced HPA axis hormone activity is highly dependent on the type of stressor.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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