The Journal of endocrinology

HPA axis changes during the initial phase of psychosocial stressor exposure in male mice.

PMID 23720397


Chronic subordinate colony (CSC) housing for 19 days results in unaffected basal morning corticosterone (CORT) levels despite a pronounced increase in adrenal mass, likely mediated by an attenuation of adrenal corticotropin (ACTH) responsiveness. Given that the pronounced increase in basal morning plasma CORT levels returns to baseline as early as 48 h after the start of CSC, it is likely that the attenuated ACTH responsiveness develops already during this initial phase. This was tested in the present study. In line with previous findings, basal morning plasma CORT levels were elevated following 10 h, but not 48 h, of CSC exposure. Basal morning plasma ACTH concentrations and relative in vivo adrenal CORT content were increased following 10 h and to a lesser extent following 48 h of CSC exposure, positively correlating. Relative in vitro adrenal CORT secretion in response to ACTH (100 nM) and kidney protein expression of 11β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 2 (HSD11B2) were unaffected following both time points. Adrenal mRNA expression of key steroidogenic enzymes was unaffected/decreased following 10 h and unaffected/increased following 48 h of CSC exposure. Together, our findings suggest that basal plasma hypercorticism during the initial CSC phase is mainly prevented by an attenuation of pituitary ACTH release. An increased absolute adrenal weight following 10 h, but not 48 h, of CSC exposure indicates that restoration of normal adrenal mass also adds to a lesser extent to prevent basal hypercorticism. A contributing role of alterations in enzymatic CORT degradation and steroidogenic enzyme availability is likely, but has to be further addressed in future studies.