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Psychoneuroendocrinology. 1998 Oct;23(7):663-700.

Stress and the developing limbic-hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis.

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Mental Health Research Institute, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor 48109-0646, USA.


The postnatal limbic-hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (LHPA) axis in the rodent is remarkably different from the adult, both in structure and function. The first 2 weeks postnatally are characterized by a 'silent period' during which the developing animal is hyporesponsive to stress (stress hyporesponsive period-SHRP), followed by a new and unique phase of stress responsiveness when the animal fails to swiftly terminate glucocorticoid secretion. In this review, we summarize our work which focuses on the regulatory biology of the components of the LHPA system and the consequences of its disruption on the adaptive responses of the developing organism. We find that the animal during the first 2 weeks of life responds to an intermittent chronic challenge increasing anterior pituitary POMC post-translational events, while the adult increases genomic events. The result for both the mature and the developing animal is the same, an increase in corticosterone (CS) levels. In addition, we have found evidence of impaired rate sensitive feedback in the weanling animal, as well as changes in ACTH clearance. Similar to the young animal emerging from SHRP, maternally deprived pups during the first week of life exhibit a substantial and sustained ACTH and CS response to stress. In the deprived animal these changes are accompanied by decreases in mineralocorticoid receptor gene expression in the hippocampus, suggesting that changes in mineralocorticoid to glucocorticoid receptor ratios may be important in this phenomena. What has become evident from our studies is that mechanisms underlying normal LHPA development are dynamic, age dependent and distinct to the strategies used by the mature organism to cope with stress.

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