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Front Neuroendocrinol. 1993 Oct;14(4):303-47.

Feast and famine: critical role of glucocorticoids with insulin in daily energy flow.

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Department of Physiology, School of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco 94143-0444.


The hypothesis proposed in this review is that normal diurnal rhythms in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis are highly regulated by activity in medial hypothalamic nuclei to effect an interaction between corticosteroids and insulin such that optimal metabolism results in response to changes in the fed or fasted state of the animal. There are marked diurnal rhythms in function of the HPA axis under both basal and stress conditions. The HPA axis controls corticosteroid output from the adrenal and, in turn, forward elements of this axis are inhibited by feedback from circulating plasma corticosteroid levels. Basal activity in the HPA axis of mammals fed ad lib peaks about 2 h before the peak of the diurnal feeding rhythm, and is controlled by input from the suprachiasmatic nuclei. The rhythm in stress responsiveness is lowest at the time of the basal peak and highest at the time of the basal trough in the HPA axis activity. There are also diurnal rhythms in corticosteroid feedback sensitivity of basal and stress-induced ACTH secretion which peak at the time of the basal trough. These rhythms are all overridden when feeding, and thus insulin secretion, is disrupted. Corticosteroids interact with insulin on food intake and body composition, and corticosteroids also increase insulin secretion. Corticosteroids stimulate feeding at low doses but inhibit it at high doses; however, it is the high levels of insulin, induced by high levels of corticosteroids, that may inhibit feeding. The effects of corticosteroids on liver, fat, and muscle cell metabolism, with emphasis on their interactions with insulin, are briefly reviewed. Corticosteroids both synergize with and antagonize the effects of insulin. The effects of stress hormones, and their interactions with insulin on lipid and protein metabolism, followed by some of the metabolic effects of injury stress, with or without nutritional support, are evaluated. In the presence of elevated insulin stimulated by glucocorticoids and nutrition, stress causes less severe catabolic effects. In the central nervous system, regulation of function in the HPA axis is clearly affected by the activity of medial hypothalamic nuclei that also alter feeding, metabolism, and obesity in rats. Lesions of the arcuate (ARC) and ventromedial (VMN) paraventricular (PVN) nuclei result in obesity and hyperactivity in the HPA axis. Moreover, adrenalectomy inhibits or prevents development of the lesion-induced obesity. There are interactions among these nuclei; one mode of communication is via inputs of neuropeptide Y (NPY) cells in the ARC to the VMN, dorsomedial nuclei, and PVN.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS).

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