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Stress. 1996 Jul;1(1):1-19.

Stress, Glucocorticoids, and Damage to the Nervous System: The Current State of Confusion.

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1
Department of Biological Sciences, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305.

Abstract

An extensive literature demonstrates that glucocorticoids (GCs), the adrenal steroids secreted during stress, can have a broad range of deleterious effects in the brain. The actions occur predominately, but not exclusively, in the hippocampus, a structure rich in corticosteroid receptors and particularly sensitive to GCs. The first half of this review considers three types of GC effects: a) GC-induced atrophy, in which a few weeks' exposure to high GC concentrations or to stress causes reversible atrophy of dendritic processes in the hippocampus; b) GC neurotoxicity where, over the course of months, GC exposure kills hippocampal neurons; c) GC neuroendangerment, in which elevated GC concentrations at the time of a neurological insult such as a stroke or seizure impairs the ability of neurons to survive the insult. The second half considers the rather confusing literature as to the possible mechanisms underlying these deleterious GC actions. Five broad themes are discerned: a) that GCs induce a metabolic vulnerability in neurons due to inhibition of glucose uptake; b) that GCs exacerbate various steps in a damaging cascade of glutamate excess, calcium mobilization and oxygen radical generation. In a review a number of years ago, I concluded that these two components accounted for the deleterious GC effects. Specifically, the energetic vulnerability induced by GCs left neurons metabolically compromised, and less able to carry out the costly task of containing glutamate, calcium and oxygen radicals. More recent work has shown this conclusion to be simplistic, and GC actions are shown to probably involve at least three additional components: c) that GCs impair a variety of neuronal defenses against neurologic insults; d) that GCs disrupt the mobilization of neurotrophins; e) that GCs have a variety of electrophysiological effects which can damage neurons. The relevance of each of those mechanisms to GC-induced atrophy, neurotoxicity and neuroendangerment is considered, as are the likely interactions among them.

PMID:
9807058

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