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Eur Neuropsychopharmacol. 2013 Dec;23(12):1779-88. doi: 10.1016/j.euroneuro.2012.12.003. Epub 2013 Jan 23.

β-endorphin degradation and the individual reactivity to traumatic stress.

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Department of Internal Medicine, Rambam Medical Center, Laboratory of Psychobiology, B. Rappaport Faculty of Medicine and B. Rappaport Research Institute, Technion, Haifa, Israel.


Reactivity to traumatic stress varies between individuals and only a minority of those exposed to trauma develops stress-induced psychopathologies. Currently extensive effort is made to unravel the specific mechanisms predisposing to vulnerability vs. resilience to stress. We investigated in rats the role of β-endorphin metabolism in vulnerability to acute traumatic stress. Responders (showing extreme anxiety; n=7) and resilient non-responders (not differing from the non-stressed individuals; n=8) to traumatic foot-shock stress were compared for their blood levels of stress hormones as well as brain levels and activity of two opioid-degrading enzymes. β-endorphin is a substrate to insulin degrading enzyme, which also degrades insulin. Therefore, the effects of insulin application on behavioral and hormonal responses and on β-endorphin degradation were tested. Pre- and post-stress levels of serum corticosterone, and post-stress plasma β-endorphin concentration differentiated between the responders and the non-responders. In brain, responders showed enhanced degradation rates of β-endorphin, assessed by Liquid Chromatography-Tandem Mass Spectrometry (LC-MS/MS), in hippocampal and amygdalar slices as compared to non-responders. Application of insulin to the amygdala, prior to exposure to traumatic stress, reduced post-stress anxiety and serum corticosterone levels only in the responders. In parallel, amygdalar β-endorphin degradation rate was also reduced by insulin. These results suggest that slowing down β-endorphin degradation rate may constitute an integral part of the normal stress-response, upon a failure of which an extreme anxiety develops. Modulation of opioid degradation may thus present a potential novel target for interference with extreme anxiety.


Acute traumatic stress; Anxiety; Insulin; LC-MS/MS; Opioid degrading enzymes; Rat; β-endorphin

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