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Endocrinology. 1986 Apr;118(4):1445-51.

Ontogeny of the stress response in the rat: role of the pituitary and the hypothalamus.


The neonatal rat shows a period of decreased responsiveness to noxious stimuli during the first 3 weeks of life, but the nature of this impairment is still controversial. To test the functionality of the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis during this period, we studied pituitary and adrenal responsiveness to exogenous ovine CRF and the ability of various stressors (ether vapors, electroshocks, and hypoxia) to elicit ACTH and corticosterone secretion. We also measured hypothalamic CRF content and pituitary ACTH content as well as CRF-binding sites in the anterior pituitary. From days 3-10, small elevations in plasma ACTH and corticosterone levels were observed after a 3-min exposure to ether vapors or electroshocks. In contrast, during this period, a 20-min exposure to hypoxia (5% O2 in N2) was unable to trigger measurable ACTH secretion, while corticosterone was significantly elevated. From days 14-21, plasma ACTH and corticosterone levels increased significantly after exposure to ether stress, hypoxia, and, to a lesser extent, electroshocks. By contrast, administration of urethane (1.2 g/kg BW) caused a significant increase in ACTH secretion on days 3, 5, and 10, an effect that was partially suppressed by pretreatment with an anti-CRF serum. This suggests that endogenous CRF can be released by at least some stimuli as early as day 3. Direct stimulation of the pituitary with synthetic oCRF (10 micrograms/kg BW) caused significant elevations in plasma ACTH levels at all ages tested (days 3 through 21), though these increases were significantly (P less than or equal to 0.01) smaller on day 3 (2.7-fold) than on day 21 (4.3-fold). Hypothalamic CRF content as well as ACTH content increased gradually with age, but the values reached by the third week of life were still low compared to the values on day 45. Finally, anterior pituitary CRF-binding sites averaged 317 +/- 48 fmol/mg protein on day 5 and 158 +/- 22 fmol/mg protein on day 17. The affinity (Kd) of the receptor for CRF was not significantly different on day 5, 17, or 45. These results show that although pituitary corticotrophs appear to be functional at birth, exposure to stress does not elicit marked increases in plasma ACTH until day 14 of age.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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