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Eur Arch Psychiatry Neurol Sci. 1989;238(5-6):302-22.

Psychiatric implications of altered limbic-hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical activity.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, University of Freiburg, Federal Republic of Germany.


Hormones of the limbic-hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (LHPA) system are much involved in central nervous system regulation. The major LHPA neuropeptides, corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), vasopressin (AVP) and corticotropin (ACTH) do not only coordinate the neuroendocrine response to stress, but also induce behavioral adaptation. Transcription and post-translational processing of these neuropeptides is regulated by corticosteroids secreted from the adrenal cortex after stimulation by ACTH and other proopiomelanocortin derived peptides. These steroids play a key role as regulators of cell development, homeostatic maintenance and adaptation to environmental challenges. They execute vitally important actions through genomic effects resulting in altered gene expression and nongenomic effects leading to altered neuronal excitability. Since excessive secretory activity of this particular neuroendocrine system is part of an acute stress response or depressive symptom pattern, there is good reason to suspect that central actions of these steroids and peptides are involved in pathophysiology determining the clinical phenotype, drug response and relapse liability. This overview summarizes the clinical neuroendocrine investigations of the author and his collaborators, while they worked at the Department of Psychiatry in Mainz. The major conclusions from this work were: (1) aberrant hormonal responses to challenges with dexamethasone, ACTH or CRH are reflecting altered brain physiology in affective illness and related disorders; (2) hormones of the LHPA axis influence also nonendocrine behavioral systems such as sleep EEG; (3) physiologically significant interactions exist between LHPA hormones, the thyroid, growth hormone, gonadal and other neuroendocrine systems; (4) hormones of the LHPA axis constitute a bidirectional link between immunoregulation and brain activity; and (5) future psychiatric research topics such as molecular genetics of affective disorders, familial risk studies, drug response analysis and neurobiology of aging will benefit from extended knowledge of neural corticosteroid effects at a clinical, cellular, and molecular level.

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