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1.  Cognitive modulation of endocrine responses to CRH stimulation in healthy subjects 
Psychoneuroendocrinology  2009;35(3):451-459.
The hypothalamic-pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis is critical for biobehavioral adaptation to challenge and appears dysregulated in a range of psychiatric disorders. Its precise role in psychopathology remains unclear and discrepant and difficult to explain findings abound in the clinical literature. Basic research suggests this system is sensitive to psychosocial cues, but psychosocial milieu factors are rarely controlled or examined in psychiatric studies using biological probes of the HPA axis. To test the hypothesis that psychological factors might complicate HPA study results even in direct, pharmacological challenge paradigms, endocrine responses to corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) were examined under two different cognitive preparation conditions.
Healthy subjects (n=32) received standard instructions or a cognitive intervention (CI) prior to injection with CRH and placebo, given on separate days in random order. The CI combined access to control over drug exposure with novelty reduction and coping enhancement. Blood samples were obtained via intravenous catheter before and after CRH.
Cognitive intervention reduced corticotropin (ACTH) levels, but only when CRH was given first (intervention by order interaction). It did not reduce cortisol response. The CI and visit (1st or 2nd) both impacted cortisol levels on placebo day.
Modifiable psychological factors may amplify or inhibit HPA axis activity in pharmacological activation paradigms, including CRH stimulation tests. The factors manipulated by the CI (novelty/familiarity, control and coping) may have particular salience to the HPA axis. Differential sensitivity to such factors could impact results in studies applying biological HPA probes to psychiatric populations.
PMCID: PMC2824051  PMID: 19758763
stress; cortisol; ACTH, corticotropin-releasing hormone; control; coping
2.  OPRM1 gene variation influences hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis function in response to a variety of stressors in rhesus macaques 
Psychoneuroendocrinology  2011;36(9):1303-1311.
The endogenous opioid system is involved in modulating a number of behavioral and physiological systems, including the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. In humans, a functional variant in the OPRM1 gene (OPRM1 A118G) is associated with a number of outcomes, including attenuated HPA axis responses to stress. A nonsynonymous variant (OPRM1 C77G) in the rhesus macaque has been shown to have similar effects in vivo to the human variant. The current study investigated whether OPRM1 C77G influences HPA axis response to stress in rhesus macaques. We analyzed plasma adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) and cortisol levels measured in response to three different stressors: 1) maternal separation in infant subjects at 6 months of age, 2) acute ethanol administration in adolescent subjects at 4 years of age, and 3) postpartum HPA axis function in adult rhesus macaque females. For the maternal separation paradigm, ACTH and cortisol levels were determined at baseline as well as peak levels during each of 4 consecutive separation episodes. For the acute ethanol administration paradigm, hormone levels were determined at baseline and again at 5 minutes, 10 minutes, and 60 minutes following the ethanol infusion. For postpartum sampling, hormone levels were determined at postpartum days 7, 14, 21, 30, 60, 90, 120, and 150. Infants carrying the 77G allele exhibited lower levels of cortisol across all 4 separation episodes. Furthermore, adolescents carrying the 77G allele exhibited lower cortisol levels at 5 and 10 minutes following acute ethanol administration. Adult females with prior reproductive experience and who carry the 77G allele exhibited lower cortisol levels across the postpartum period. No significant genotype effects were found for ACTH, although there were some trends for lower ACTH levels in 77G allele carriers. These data are consistent with human studies that have demonstrated attenuated cortisol responses to stress among carriers of the OPRM1 118G allele, lending further support to the argument that the rhesus and human allelic variants are functionally similar. Our results also suggest that OPRM1 variation may influence coping style, as well as alcohol-induced and postpartum levels of HPA axis activity and, as such, may modify vulnerability to alcohol use disorders and postpartum depression.
PMCID: PMC3131436  PMID: 21459516
Opioids; Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) Axis; Cortisol; Stress; Nonhuman Primate; Separation; Alcohol; Postpartum Depression
3.  The Combined Propranolol/TSST Paradigm – A New Method for Psychoneuroendocrinology 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(2):e57567.
Upon perception of a stimulus as stressful, the human brain reacts with the activation of the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), to mobilize energy resources to better cope with the stressor. Since the perception of the stressor is the initial stimulus, a synchronicity between the subjective perception of stress and the physiological stress reactivity should be expected. However, according to a recent meta-analysis, these associations are weak and inconsistent. The goal of the current study was to investigate the interaction between the SNS, HPA and subjective stress perceptions, by introducing an experimental manipulation of this interaction. For this purpose, we combined the SNS inhibitor propranolol with the Trier Social Stress Test, and measured endocrinological and psychological responses to the stressor. Thirty healthy male participants were recruited and randomly assigned to either a propranolol (PROP; n = 15) or placebo (PLC; n = 15) group. All subjects were administered 80 mg of propranolol 60 minutes prior to exposure to psychosocial stress. Salivary cortisol and alpha amylase (sAA), heart rate, blood pressure and subjective stress responses were assessed throughout the study. We observed significantly reduced sAA levels and heart rate increases in the PROP group in response to stress, with no effects of the drug on systolic or diastolic blood pressure changes. In line with previous studies, a significant increase in cortisol was seen in response to the stress exposure. Importantly, the cortisol increase was significantly higher in the PROP group. A typical increase in subjective stress could be seen in both groups, with no significant group differences emerging. Complementing previous work, this study further demonstrates a significant interaction between the HPA and the SNS during acute stress. The HPA activity was found to be elevated in the presence of a suppressed SNS in reactivity to the TSST.
PMCID: PMC3579809  PMID: 23451243
4.  Effects of an exercise and hypocaloric healthy eating intervention on indices of psychological health status, hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis regulation and immune function after early-stage breast cancer: a randomised controlled trial 
Many women experience emotional distress, depression and anxiety after a diagnosis of breast cancer. Psychological stress and depression have been associated with hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis dysregulation that may adversely affect immune system functioning and impact upon survival. This study investigated the effects of a lifestyle intervention on indices of psychological health status, HPA axis regulation and immune function in overweight women recovering from early-stage breast cancer treatment.
A total of 85 women treated for breast cancer 3 to 18 months previously were randomly allocated to a 6-month exercise and hypocaloric healthy eating program plus usual care or usual care alone (control group). Women in the intervention group received three supervised exercise sessions per week and individualized dietary advice, supplemented by weekly nutrition seminars. Depressive symptoms (Beck Depression Inventory version II: BDI-II), perceived stress (Perceived Stress Scale: PSS), salivary diurnal cortisol rhythms; inflammatory cytokines (IL-6 and Tumor necrosis factor-α), leukocyte phenotype counts, natural killer (NK) cell cytotoxicity and lymphocyte proliferation following mitogenic stimulation were assessed at baseline and 6-month follow up.
Compared with the control group, the intervention group exhibited a reduction in depressive symptoms (adjusted mean difference, 95% confidence intervals (95% CI): −3.12, −1.03 to −5.26; P = 0.004) at the 6-month follow-up but no significant decrease in PSS scores (−2.07, −4.96 to 0.82; P = 0.16). The lifestyle intervention also had a significant impact on diurnal salivary cortisol rhythm compared with usual care alone, as evidenced by an increase in morning salivary cortisol at the 6-month follow-up (P <0.04), indicating a change in HPA axis regulation. Women in the control group had higher total leukocyte, neutrophil and lymphocyte counts in comparison to the intervention group at the 6-month follow-up (P ≤0.05), whereas there was no difference in NK cell counts (P = 0.46), NK cell cytotoxicity (P = 0.85) or lymphocyte proliferation responses (P = 0.11) between the two groups.
Our results show that the lifestyle intervention resulted in a reduction in depressive symptoms and a normalisation of HPA axis regulation. Such changes could have important implications for long-term survival in women recovering from early-breast cancer treatment.
Trial registration
Current Controlled Trials: ISRCTN08045231
PMCID: PMC4052984  PMID: 24731917
5.  Stressor paradigms in developmental studies: What does and does not work to produce mean increases in salivary cortisol 
Psychoneuroendocrinology  2009;34(7):953-967.
The stress response system is comprised of an intricate interconnected network that includes the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenocortical (HPA) axis. The HPA axis maintains the organism’s capacity to respond to acute and prolonged stressors and is a focus of research on the sequelae of stress. Human studies of the HPA system have been facilitated enormously by the development of salivary assays which measure cortisol, the steroid end-product of the HPA axis. The use of salivary cortisol is prevalent in child development stress research. However, in order to measure children’s acute cortisol reactivity to circumscribed stressors, researchers must put children in stressful situations which produce elevated levels of cortisol. Unfortunately, many studies on the cortisol stress response in children use paradigms that fail to produce mean elevations in cortisol. This paper reviews stressor paradigms used with infants, children, and adolescents to guide researchers in selecting effective stressor tasks. A number of different types of stressor paradigms were examined, including: public speaking, negative emotion, relationship disruption/threatening, novelty, handling, and mild pain paradigms. With development, marked changes are evident in the effectiveness of the same stressor paradigm to provoke elevations in cortisol. Several factors appear to be critical in determining whether a stressor paradigm is successful, including the availability of coping resources and the extent to which, in older children, the task threatens the social self. A consideration of these issues is needed to promote the implementation of more effective stressor paradigms in human developmental psychoendocrine research.
PMCID: PMC2692557  PMID: 19321267
Salivary cortisol; Stressor paradigms; Human development
6.  Effects of Chronic Plus Acute Prolonged Stress on measures of coping style, anxiety, and evoked HPA-axis reactivity 
Neuropharmacology  2012;63(6):1118-1126.
Exposure to psychological trauma is the precipitating factor for PTSD. In addition, a history of chronic or traumatic stress exposure is a predisposing risk factor. We have developed a Chronic plus Acute Prolonged Stress (CAPS) treatment for rats that models some of the characteristics of stressful events that can lead to PTSD in humans. We have previously shown that CAPS enhances acute fear responses and impairs extinction of conditioned fear. Further, CAPS reduced the expression of glucocorticoid receptors in the medial prefrontal cortex. In this study we examined the effects of CAPS exposure on behavioral stress coping style, anxiety-like behaviors, and acute stress reactivity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. Male Sprague-Dawley rats were exposed to CAPS treatment, consisting of chronic intermittent cold stress (4°C, 6hrs/day, 14 days) followed on day 15 by a single 1-hr session of sequential acute stressors (social defeat, immobilization, swim). After CAPS or control treatment, different groups were tested for shock probe defensive burying, novelty suppressed feeding, or evoked activation of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) and corticosterone release by an acute immobilization stress. CAPS resulted in a decrease in active burying behavior and an increase in immobility in the shock probe test. Further, CAPS-treated rats displayed increases in the latency to feed in the novelty suppressed feeding test, despite an increase in food intake in the home cage. CAPS treatment also reduced the HPA response to a subsequent acute immobilization stress. These results further validate CAPS treatment as a rat model of relevance to PTSD, and together with results reported previously, suggest that CAPS impairs fear extinction, shifts coping behavior from an active to a more passive strategy, increases anxiety, and alters HPA reactivity, resembling many aspects of human PTSD.
PMCID: PMC3427462  PMID: 22842072
PTSD; stress; coping style; anxiety; HPA-axis
7.  The Modulatory Role of the Lateral Septum on Neuroendocrine and Behavioral Stress Responses 
Neuropsychopharmacology  2010;36(4):793-804.
The lateral septum (LS) has been shown to have a key role in emotional processes and stress responses. However, the exact role of the LS on stress modulation is not clear, as previous lesion studies mostly used electrolytic lesions, thereby destroying the whole septal area, including medial components and/or fibers of passage. The aim of the present study was therefore, to investigate the effects of selective excitotoxic ablation of the LS on neuroendocrine and behavioral stress responses in rats. Bilateral ibotenic acid lesions of the LS increased hypothalamo–pituitary–adrenocortical (HPA) axis responses to forced swim stress indicated by enhanced plasma ACTH and corticosterone responses and higher stress-induced c-Fos-like immunoreactivity in the paraventricular hypothalamic nucleus. Moreover, LS-lesioned animals showed a more passive coping style in the forced swim test indicated by increased floating and reduced struggling/swimming behavior compared with sham-lesioned controls. Interestingly, intraseptal corticosteroid receptor blockade modulated behavioral stress coping but failed to change HPA axis stress responses. Further experiments aimed at elucidating underlying neurochemical mechanisms revealed that intraseptal administration of the selective 5-HT1A receptor antagonist WAY-100635 increased and prolonged stress-induced ACTH and corticosterone levels mimicking lesion effects, while the agonist 8-OH-DPAT suppressed HPA axis activity facilitating the inhibitory role of the LS. In addition, 8-OH-DPAT-injected animals showed increased active and decreased passive coping strategies during forced swimming suggesting antidepressant efficacy. Taken together, our data suggest that the LS promotes active stress coping behavior and is involved in a HPA-inhibitory mechanism that is at least in part mediated by septal 5-HT1A receptors and does not involve a glucocorticoid mediated feedback mechanism.
PMCID: PMC3055728  PMID: 21160468
forced swimming; HPA axis; ACTH; corticosterone; glucocorticoids; serotonin; mood/anxiety/stress disorders; neurochemistry; neuroendocrinology; neuropharmacology; septum; HPA axis; stress; coping; glucocorticoids
8.  Noradrenaline and cortisol changes in response to low-grade cognitive stress differ in migraine and tension-type headache 
The Journal of Headache and Pain  2007;8(3):157-166.
The goal of this study was to explore the relationship between indicators of sympathoneural, sympathomedullar and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) activity and stress-induced head and shoulder-neck pain in patients with migraine or tension-type headache (TTH). We measured noradrenaline, adrenaline and cortisol levels before and after low-grade cognitive stress in 21 migraineurs, 16 TTH patients and 34 controls. The stressor lasted for 60 min and was followed by 30 min of relaxation. Migraine patients had lower noradrenaline levels in blood platelets compared to controls. Pain responses correlated negatively with noradrenaline levels, and pain recovery correlated negatively with the cortisol change in migraineurs. TTH patients maintained cortisol secretion during the cognitive stress as opposed to the normal circadian decrease seen in controls and migraineurs. There may therefore be abnormal activation of the HPA axis in patients with TTH when coping with mental stress, but no association was found between pain and cortisol. A relationship between HPA activity and stress in TTH patients has to our knowledge not been reported before. In migraine, on the other hand, both sympathoneural activation and HPA activation seem to be linked to stress-induced muscle pain and recovery from pain respectively. The present study suggests that migraineurs and TTH patients cope differently with low-grade cognitive stress.
PMCID: PMC3476146  PMID: 17568991
Catecholamines; Cortisol; Migraine; Tension-type headache; Stress
9.  CRH-stimulated cortisol release and food intake in healthy, non-obese adults 
Psychoneuroendocrinology  2009;35(4):607-612.
There is considerable anecdotal and some scientific evidence that stress triggers eating behavior, but underlying physiological mechanisms remain uncertain. The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is a key mediator of physiological stress responses and may play a role in the link between stress and food intake. Cortisol responses to laboratory stressors predict consumption but it is unclear whether such responses mark a vulnerability to stress-related eating or whether cortisol directly stimulates eating in humans.
We infused healthy adults with corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) at a dose that is subjectively undetectable but elicits a robust endogenous cortisol response, and measured subsequent intake of snack foods, allowing analysis of HPA reactivity effects on food intake without the complex psychological effects of a stress paradigm.
CRH elevated cortisol levels relative to placebo but did not impact subjective anxious distress. Subjects ate more following CRH than following placebo and peak cortisol response to CRH was strongly related to both caloric intake and total consumption.
These data show that HPA axis reactivity to pharmacological stimulation predicts subsequent food intake and suggest that cortisol itself may directly stimulate food consumption in humans. Understanding the physiological mechanisms that underlie stress-related eating may prove useful in efforts to attack the public health crises created by obesity.
PMCID: PMC2843773  PMID: 19828258
stress; cortisol; CRH; appetite; HPA
10.  Antidepressants recruit new neurons to improve stress response regulation 
Molecular Psychiatry  2011;16(12):1177-1188.
Recent research suggests an involvement of hippocampal neurogenesis in behavioral effects of antidepressants. However, the precise mechanisms through which newborn granule neurons might influence the antidepressant response remain elusive. Here, we demonstrate that unpredictable chronic mild stress in mice not only reduces hippocampal neurogenesis, but also dampens the relationship between hippocampus and the main stress hormone system, the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. Moreover, this relationship is restored by treatment with the antidepressant fluoxetine, in a neurogenesis-dependent manner. Specifically, chronic stress severely impairs HPA axis activity, the ability of hippocampus to modulate downstream brain areas involved in the stress response, the sensitivity of the hippocampal granule cell network to novelty/glucocorticoid effects and the hippocampus-dependent negative feedback of the HPA axis. Remarkably, we revealed that, although ablation of hippocampal neurogenesis alone does not impair HPA axis activity, the ability of fluoxetine to restore hippocampal regulation of the HPA axis under chronic stress conditions, occurs only in the presence of an intact neurogenic niche. These findings provide a mechanistic framework for understanding how adult-generated new neurons influence the response to antidepressants. We suggest that newly generated neurons may facilitate stress integration and that, during chronic stress or depression, enhancing neurogenesis enables a dysfunctional hippocampus to restore the central control on stress response systems, then allowing recovery.
PMCID: PMC3223314  PMID: 21537331
antidepressant; hippocampal neurogenesis; stress; depression; hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal axis; immediate early gene
11.  The Combined Dexamethasone/TSST Paradigm – A New Method for Psychoneuroendocrinology 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(6):e38994.
The two main physiological systems involved in the regulation of the stress response are the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). However, the interaction of these systems on the stress response remains poorly understood. To better understand the cross-regulatory effects of the different systems involved in stress regulation, we developed a new stress paradigm that keeps the activity of the HPA constant when exposing subjects to psychosocial stress. Thirty healthy male participants were recruited and randomly assigned to either a dexamethasone (DEX; n = 15) or placebo (PLC; n = 15) group. All subjects were instructed to take the Dexamethasone (2 mg) or Placebo pill the night before coming to the laboratory to undergo the Trier Social Stress Task (TSST). Salivary cortisol, salivary alpha amylase (sAA), heart rate, blood pressure and subjective stress were assessed throughout the protocol. As expected, the DEX group presented with suppressed cortisol levels. In comparison, their heart rate was elevated by approximately ten base points compared to the PLC group, with increases throughout the protocol and during the TSST. Neither sAA, nor systolic or diastolic blood pressures showed significant group differences. Subjective stress levels significantly increased from baseline, and were found to be higher before and after the TSST after DEX compared to placebo. These results demonstrate a significant interaction between the HPA and the SNS during acute stress. The SNS activity was found to be elevated in the presence of a suppressed HPA axis, with some further effects on subjective levels of stress. The method to suppress the HPA prior to inducing stress was found to completely reliable, without any adverse side effects. Therefore, we propose this paradigm as a new method to investigate the interaction of the two major stress systems in the regulation of the stress response.
PMCID: PMC3372469  PMID: 22701740
12.  Inclusion of the glucocorticoid receptor in a hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis model reveals bistability 
The body's primary stress management system is the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis. The HPA axis responds to physical and mental challenge to maintain homeostasis in part by controlling the body's cortisol level. Dysregulation of the HPA axis is implicated in numerous stress-related diseases.
We developed a structured model of the HPA axis that includes the glucocorticoid receptor (GR). This model incorporates nonlinear kinetics of pituitary GR synthesis. The nonlinear effect arises from the fact that GR homodimerizes after cortisol activation and induces its own synthesis in the pituitary. This homodimerization makes possible two stable steady states (low and high) and one unstable state of cortisol production resulting in bistability of the HPA axis. In this model, low GR concentration represents the normal steady state, and high GR concentration represents a dysregulated steady state. A short stress in the normal steady state produces a small perturbation in the GR concentration that quickly returns to normal levels. Long, repeated stress produces persistent and high GR concentration that does not return to baseline forcing the HPA axis to an alternate steady state. One consequence of increased steady state GR is reduced steady state cortisol, which has been observed in some stress related disorders such as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS).
Inclusion of pituitary GR expression resulted in a biologically plausible model of HPA axis bistability and hypocortisolism. High GR concentration enhanced cortisol negative feedback on the hypothalamus and forced the HPA axis into an alternative, low cortisol state. This model can be used to explore mechanisms underlying disorders of the HPA axis.
PMCID: PMC1804264  PMID: 17300722
13.  Bouncing back - trauma and the HPA-axis in healthy adults 
European Journal of Psychotraumatology  2010;1:10.3402/ejpt.v1i0.5844.
Dysregulation of the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA)-axis is thought to underlie stress-related psychiatric disorders such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Some studies have reported HPA-axis dysregulation in trauma-exposed (TE) adults in the absence of psychiatric morbidity. In this dissertation we set out to unravel part of the mechanism that underlies the complex relations between trauma exposure, stress regulation, and psychopathology.
Mentally healthy TE subjects were compared with non-trauma-exposed (NE) healthy controls. To distinguish between the potential effects of childhood trauma and adulthood trauma, we included women exposed to childhood trauma as well as men who were exposed to trauma during adulthood. Basal HPA-axis functioning was assessed with salivary cortisol samples. HPA-axis reactivity was assessed with the dexamethasone/corticotropin-releasing hormone (Dex/CRH) test.
The results show that childhood trauma exposure is associated with an attenuated cortisol response after the Dex/CRH challenge test in women. In contrast, trauma exposure during adulthood was not associated with alterations in HPA-axis regulation after the Dex/CRH test. Neither childhood trauma nor adulthood trauma were associated with basal HPA-axis functioning.
Childhood trauma rather than adulthood trauma may chronically affect HPA-axis functioning. Since the association between adulthood trauma and resilience to psychopathology cannot be explained by HPA-axis functioning alone, other factors must play a role.
PMCID: PMC3402002  PMID: 22893796
HPA-axis; cortisol; trauma; childhood trauma; adults; resilience
14.  Abnormal cortisol awakening response predicts worse cognitive function in patients with first-episode psychosis 
Psychological medicine  2010;41(3):463-476.
Cognitive impairment, particularly in memory and executive function, is a core feature of psychosis. Moreover, psychosis is characterized by a more prominent history of stress exposure, and by dysregulation of the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis. In turn, stress exposure and abnormal levels of the main HPA axis hormone cortisol are associated with cognitive impairments in a variety of clinical and experimental samples; however, this association has never been examined in first-episode psychosis (FEP).
In this study, 30 FEP patients and 26 controls completed assessment of the HPA axis (cortisol awakening response and cortisol levels during the day), perceived stress, recent life events, history of childhood trauma, and cognitive function. The neuropsychological battery comprised general cognitive function, verbal and non-verbal memory, executive function, perception, visuospatial abilities, processing speed, and general knowledge.
Patients performed significantly worse on all cognitive domains compared to controls. In patients only, a more blunted cortisol awakening response (that is, more abnormal) was associated with a more severe deficit in verbal memory and processing speed. In controls only, higher levels of perceived stress and more recent life events were associated with a worse performance in executive function and perception and visuospatial abilities.
These data support a role for the HPA axis, as measured by cortisol awakening response, in modulating cognitive function in patients with psychosis; however, this association does not seem to be related to the increased exposure to psychosocial stressors described in these patients.
PMCID: PMC3513413  PMID: 20529412
Cognition; cortisol; hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis; psychosis; schizophrenia; stress
15.  Vulnerability to Stroke: Implications of Perinatal Programming of the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis 
Chronic stress is capable of exacerbating each major, modifiable, endogenous risk factor for cerebrovascular and cardiovascular disease. Indeed, exposure to stress can increase both the incidence and severity of stroke, presumably through activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. Now that characterization of the mechanisms underlying epigenetic programming of the HPA axis is well underway, there has been renewed interest in examining the role of early environment on the evolution of health conditions across the entire lifespan. Indeed, neonatal manipulations in rodents that reduce stress responsivity, and subsequent life-time exposure to glucocorticoids, are associated with a reduction in the development of neuroendocrine, neuroanatomical, and cognitive dysfunctions that typically progress with age. Although improved day to day regulation of the HPA axis also may be accompanied by a decrease in stroke risk, evidence from rodent studies suggest that an associated cost could be increased susceptibility to inflammation and neuronal death in the event that a stroke does occur and the individual is exposed to persistently elevated corticosteroids. Given its importance in regulation of health and disease states, any long-term modulation of the HPA axis is likely to be associated with both benefits and potential risks. The goals of this review article are to examine (1) the clinical and experimental data suggesting that neonatal experiences can shape HPA axis regulation, (2) the influence of stress and the HPA axis on stroke incidence and severity, and (3) the potential for neonatal programming of the HPA axis to impact adult cerebrovascular health.
PMCID: PMC2802556  PMID: 20057937
cardiovascular disease; cerebral ischemia; stress; glucocorticoids; corticosterone; maternal separation; handling
16.  Effects of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor treatment on plasma oxytocin and cortisol in major depressive disorder 
BMC Psychiatry  2013;13:124.
Oxytocin is known for its capacity to facilitate social bonding, reduce anxiety and for its actions on the stress hypothalamopituitary adrenal (HPA) axis. Since oxytocin can physiologically suppress activity of the HPA axis, clinical applications of this neuropeptide have been proposed in conditions where the function of the HPA axis is dysregulated. One such condition is major depressive disorder (MDD). Dysregulation of the HPA system is the most prominent endocrine change seen with MDD, and normalizing the HPA axis is one of the major targets of recent treatments. The potential clinical application of oxytocin in MDD requires improved understanding of its relationship to the symptoms and underlying pathophysiology of MDD. Previous research has investigated potential correlations between oxytocin and symptoms of MDD, including a link between oxytocin and treatment related symptom reduction. The outcomes of studies investigating whether antidepressive treatment (pharmacological and non-pharmacological) influences oxytocin concentrations in MDD, have produced conflicting outcomes. These outcomes suggest the need for an investigation of the influence of a single treatment class on oxytocin concentrations, to determine whether there is a relationship between oxytocin, the HPA axis (e.g., oxytocin and cortisol) and MDD. Our objective was to measure oxytocin and cortisol in patients with MDD before and following treatment with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, SSRI.
We sampled blood from arterial plasma. Patients with MDD were studied at the same time twice; pre- and post- 12 weeks treatment, in an unblinded sequential design (clinicaltrials.govNCT00168493).
Results did not reveal differences in oxytocin or cortisol concentrations before relative to following SSRI treatment, and there were no significant relationships between oxytocin and cortisol, or these two physiological variables and psychological symptom scores, before or after treatment.
These outcomes demonstrate that symptoms of MDD were reduced following effective treatment with an SSRI, and further, stress physiology was unlikely to be a key factor in this outcome. Further research is required to discriminate potential differences in underlying stress physiology for individuals with MDD who respond to antidepressant treatment, relative to those who experience treatment resistance.
PMCID: PMC3643878  PMID: 23627666
Major depressive disorder; Oxytocin; Cortisol; Hypothalamopuitary adrenal axis; SSRI
17.  Pain and sensory detection threshold response to acupuncture is modulated by coping strategy and acupuncture sensation 
Acupuncture has been shown to reduce pain, and acupuncture-induced sensation may be important for this analgesia. In addition, cognitive coping strategies can influence sensory perception. However, the role of coping strategy on acupuncture modulation of pain and sensory thresholds, and the association between acupuncture sensation and these modulatory effects, is currently unknown.
Electroacupuncture (EA) was applied at acupoints ST36 and GB39 of 61 healthy adults. Different coping conditions were experimentally designed to form an active coping strategy group (AC group), who thought they could control EA stimulation intensity, and a passive coping strategy group (PC group), who did not think they had such control. Importantly, neither group was actually able to control EA stimulus intensity. Quantitative sensory testing was performed before and after EA, and consisted of vibration (VDT), mechanical (MDT), warm (WDT), and cold (CDT) detection thresholds, and pressure (PPT), mechanical (MPT), heat (HPT) and cold (CPT) pain thresholds. Autonomic measures (e.g. skin conductance response, SCR) were also acquired to quantify physiological response to EA under different coping conditions. Subjects also reported the intensity of any acupuncture-induced sensations.
Coping strategy was induced with successful blinding in 58% of AC subjects. Compared to PC, AC showed greater SCR to EA. Under AC, EA reduced PPT and CPT. In the AC group, improved pain and sensory thresholds were correlated with acupuncture sensation (VDTchange vs. MI: r=0.58, CDTchange vs. tingling: r=0.53, CPTchange vs. tingling; r=0.55, CPTchange vs. dull; r=0.55). However, in the PC group, improved sensory thresholds were negatively correlated with acupuncture sensation (CDTchange vs. intensity sensitization: r=-0.52, WDTchange vs. fullness: r=-0.57).
Our novel approach was able to successfully induce AC and PC strategies to EA stimulation. The interaction between psychological coping strategy and acupuncture sensation intensity can differentially modulate pain and sensory detection threshold response to EA. In a clinical context, our findings suggest that instructions given to the patient can significantly affect therapeutic outcomes and the relationship between acupuncture intensity and clinical response. Specifically, acupuncture analgesia can be enhanced by matching physical stimulation intensity with psychological coping strategy to acupuncture contexts.
Trial registration
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/1472-6882-14-324) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4167271  PMID: 25175308
Coping strategy; Acupuncture; Acupuncture sensation; Pain; Sensory threshold
18.  β-endorphin modulates the effect of stress on novelty-suppressed feeding 
Although stress is implicated in the pathophysiology of mood and anxiety disorders, not all individuals who suffer stressful life events develop psychopathology. Differential susceptibility to stress may be influenced by genetically mediated differences in hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis activity and moderation of the stress response by the opioid peptide β-endorphin (β-E). The present study investigated genetic contributions to coping behavior by examining anxious behavior of transgenic mice with varying capacities to synthesize β-E [B6.129S2-Pomctm1Low/J; regulated by insertion of a premature stop codon into one or both copies of the proopiomelanocortin (POMC) gene], both under normal conditions and following 3 min of forced swim (FS). Ten minutes after this stress exposure or a control manipulation, acutely food-deprived female and male transgenic mice were subjected to a novelty-suppressed feeding (NSF) test, during which their interaction with an almond slice located in the center of an open field box was measured. There was an interaction between genotype and stress for latency to approach the almond and whether or not the almond was approached, such that mice with low or absent β-E displayed a stronger aversion to novelty-feeding after stress exposure than did mice with normal levels. These data provide evidence for a moderating effect of β-E on the behavioral response to stress. Genotypic differences in anxious behavior emerged when mice were stressed prior to behavioral assessment, suggesting that β-E plays a role in coping behavior. These findings indicate that genetic variability in sensitivity of the β-E system to stress may contribute, at least in part, to heritable differences in stress reactivity as well as vulnerability to stress-related psychopathology.
PMCID: PMC3596765  PMID: 23503677
opioids; transgenic; anxiety; depression; mice; hyponeophagia; novelty
19.  Neurocognitive Function and State Cognitive Stress Appraisal Predict Cortisol Reactivity to an Acute Psychosocial Stressor in Adolescents 
Psychoneuroendocrinology  2012;38(8):1318-1327.
Stress and associated alterations in hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) function have deleterious impacts on the development of multiple mental and physical health problems. Prior research has aimed to identify individuals most at risk for the development of these stress-related maladies by examining factors that may contribute to inter-individual differences in HPA responses to acute stress. The objectives of this study were to investigate, in adolescents, 1) whether differences in neurocognitive abilities influenced cortisol reactivity to an acute stressor, 2) whether internalizing psychiatric disorders influenced this relationship, and 3) whether acute cognitive stress-appraisal mechanisms mediated an association between neurocognitive function and cortisol reactivity. Subjects were 70 adolescents from a community sample who underwent standardized neurocognitive assessments of IQ, achievement, and declarative memory measures at mean age 14 and whose physiological and behavioral responses to a standardized psychosocial stress paradigm (Trier Social Stress Test, TSST) were assessed at mean age 18. Results showed that, among all adolescents, lower nonverbal memory performance predicted lower cortisol reactivity. In addition, internalizing disorders interacted with verbal memory such that the association with cortisol reactivity was strongest for adolescents with internalizing disorders. Finally, lower secondary cognitive appraisal of coping in anticipation of the TSST independently predicted lower cortisol reactivity but did not mediate the neurocognitive–cortisol relationship. Findings suggest that declarative memory may contribute to inter-individual differences in acute cortisol reactivity in adolescents, internalizing disorders may influence this relationship, and cognitive stress appraisal also predicts cortisol reactivity. Developmental, research, and clinical implications are discussed.
PMCID: PMC4077190  PMID: 23253895
Neurocognitive Function; Memory; Stress Appraisal; Cortisol; TSST; Adolescents; Anxiety; Depression
20.  Caregiver- and Patient-Directed Interventions for Dementia 
Executive Summary
In early August 2007, the Medical Advisory Secretariat began work on the Aging in the Community project, an evidence-based review of the literature surrounding healthy aging in the community. The Health System Strategy Division at the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care subsequently asked the secretariat to provide an evidentiary platform for the ministry’s newly released Aging at Home Strategy.
After a broad literature review and consultation with experts, the secretariat identified 4 key areas that strongly predict an elderly person’s transition from independent community living to a long-term care home. Evidence-based analyses have been prepared for each of these 4 areas: falls and fall-related injuries, urinary incontinence, dementia, and social isolation. For the first area, falls and fall-related injuries, an economic model is described in a separate report.
Please visit the Medical Advisory Secretariat Web site,, to review these titles within the Aging in the Community series.
Aging in the Community: Summary of Evidence-Based Analyses
Prevention of Falls and Fall-Related Injuries in Community-Dwelling Seniors: An Evidence-Based Analysis
Behavioural Interventions for Urinary Incontinence in Community-Dwelling Seniors: An Evidence-Based Analysis
Caregiver- and Patient-Directed Interventions for Dementia: An Evidence-Based Analysis
Social Isolation in Community-Dwelling Seniors: An Evidence-Based Analysis
The Falls/Fractures Economic Model in Ontario Residents Aged 65 Years and Over (FEMOR)
This report features the evidence-based analysis on caregiver- and patient-directed interventions for dementia and is broken down into 4 sections:
Caregiver-Directed Interventions for Dementia
Patient-Directed Interventions for Dementia
Economic Analysis of Caregiver- and Patient-Directed Interventions for Dementia
Caregiver-Directed Interventions for Dementia
To identify interventions that may be effective in supporting the well-being of unpaid caregivers of seniors with dementia living in the community.
Clinical Need: Target Population and Condition
Dementia is a progressive and largely irreversible syndrome that is characterized by a loss of cognitive function severe enough to impact social or occupational functioning. The components of cognitive function affected include memory and learning, attention, concentration and orientation, problem-solving, calculation, language, and geographic orientation. Dementia was identified as one of the key predictors in a senior’s transition from independent community living to admission to a long-term care (LTC) home, in that approximately 90% of individuals diagnosed with dementia will be institutionalized before death. In addition, cognitive decline linked to dementia is one of the most commonly cited reasons for institutionalization.
Prevalence estimates of dementia in the Ontario population have largely been extrapolated from the Canadian Study of Health and Aging conducted in 1991. Based on these estimates, it is projected that there will be approximately 165,000 dementia cases in Ontario in the year 2008, and by 2010 the number of cases will increase by nearly 17% over 2005 levels. By 2020 the number of cases is expected to increase by nearly 55%, due to a rise in the number of people in the age categories with the highest prevalence (85+). With the increase in the aging population, dementia will continue to have a significant economic impact on the Canadian health care system. In 1991, the total costs associated with dementia in Canada were $3.9 billion (Cdn) with $2.18 billion coming from LTC.
Caregivers play a crucial role in the management of individuals with dementia because of the high level of dependency and morbidity associated with the condition. It has been documented that a greater demand is faced by dementia caregivers compared with caregivers of persons with other chronic diseases. The increased burden of caregiving contributes to a host of chronic health problems seen among many informal caregivers of persons with dementia. Much of this burden results from managing the behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia (BPSD), which have been established as a predictor of institutionalization for elderly patients with dementia.
It is recognized that for some patients with dementia, an LTC facility can provide the most appropriate care; however, many patients move into LTC unnecessarily. For individuals with dementia to remain in the community longer, caregivers require many types of formal and informal support services to alleviate the stress of caregiving. These include both respite care and psychosocial interventions. Psychosocial interventions encompass a broad range of interventions such as psychoeducational interventions, counseling, supportive therapy, and behavioural interventions.
Assuming that 50% of persons with dementia live in the community, a conservative estimate of the number of informal caregivers in Ontario is 82,500. Accounting for the fact that 29% of people with dementia live alone, this leaves a remaining estimate of 58,575 Ontarians providing care for a person with dementia with whom they reside.
Description of Interventions
The 2 main categories of caregiver-directed interventions examined in this review are respite care and psychosocial interventions. Respite care is defined as a break or relief for the caregiver. In most cases, respite is provided in the home, through day programs, or at institutions (usually 30 days or less). Depending on a caregiver’s needs, respite services will vary in delivery and duration. Respite care is carried out by a variety of individuals, including paid staff, volunteers, family, or friends.
Psychosocial interventions encompass a broad range of interventions and have been classified in various ways in the literature. This review will examine educational, behavioural, dementia-specific, supportive, and coping interventions. The analysis focuses on behavioural interventions, that is, those designed to help the caregiver manage BPSD. As described earlier, BPSD are one of the most challenging aspects of caring for a senior with dementia, causing an increase in caregiver burden. The analysis also examines multicomponent interventions, which include at least 2 of the above-mentioned interventions.
Methods of Evidence-Based Analysis
A comprehensive search strategy was used to identify systematic reviews and randomized controlled trials (RCTs) that examined the effectiveness of interventions for caregivers of dementia patients.
Section 2.1
Are respite care services effective in supporting the well-being of unpaid caregivers of seniors with dementia in the community?
Do respite care services impact on rates of institutionalization of these seniors?
Section 2.2
Which psychosocial interventions are effective in supporting the well-being of unpaid caregivers of seniors with dementia in the community?
Which interventions reduce the risk for institutionalization of seniors with dementia?
Outcomes of Interest
any quantitative measure of caregiver psychological health, including caregiver burden, depression, quality of life, well-being, strain, mastery (taking control of one’s situation), reactivity to behaviour problems, etc.;
rate of institutionalization; and
Assessment of Quality of Evidence
The quality of the evidence was assessed as High, Moderate, Low, or Very low according to the GRADE methodology and GRADE Working Group. As per GRADE the following definitions apply:
Summary of Findings
Conclusions in Table 1 are drawn from Sections 2.1 and 2.2 of the report.
Summary of Conclusions on Caregiver-Directed Interventions
There is limited evidence from RCTs that respite care is effective in improving outcomes for those caring for seniors with dementia.
There is considerable qualitative evidence of the perceived benefits of respite care.
Respite care is known as one of the key formal support services for alleviating caregiver burden in those caring for dementia patients.
Respite care services need to be tailored to individual caregiver needs as there are vast differences among caregivers and patients with dementia (severity, type of dementia, amount of informal/formal support available, housing situation, etc.)
There is moderate- to high-quality evidence that individual behavioural interventions (≥ 6 sessions), directed towards the caregiver (or combined with the patient) are effective in improving psychological health in dementia caregivers.
There is moderate- to high-quality evidence that multicomponent interventions improve caregiver psychosocial health and may affect rates of institutionalization of dementia patients.
RCT indicates randomized controlled trial.
Patient-Directed Interventions for Dementia
The section on patient-directed interventions for dementia is broken down into 4 subsections with the following questions:
3.1 Physical Exercise for Seniors with Dementia – Secondary Prevention
What is the effectiveness of physical exercise for the improvement or maintenance of basic activities of daily living (ADLs), such as eating, bathing, toileting, and functional ability, in seniors with mild to moderate dementia?
3.2 Nonpharmacologic and Nonexercise Interventions to Improve Cognitive Functioning in Seniors With Dementia – Secondary Prevention
What is the effectiveness of nonpharmacologic interventions to improve cognitive functioning in seniors with mild to moderate dementia?
3.3 Physical Exercise for Delaying the Onset of Dementia – Primary Prevention
Can exercise decrease the risk of subsequent cognitive decline/dementia?
3.4 Cognitive Interventions for Delaying the Onset of Dementia – Primary Prevention
Does cognitive training decrease the risk of cognitive impairment, deterioration in the performance of basic ADLs or instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs),1 or incidence of dementia in seniors with good cognitive and physical functioning?
Clinical Need: Target Population and Condition
Secondary Prevention2
Physical deterioration is linked to dementia. This is thought to be due to reduced muscle mass leading to decreased activity levels and muscle atrophy, increasing the potential for unsafe mobility while performing basic ADLs such as eating, bathing, toileting, and functional ability.
Improved physical conditioning for seniors with dementia may extend their independent mobility and maintain performance of ADL.
Nonpharmacologic and Nonexercise Interventions
Cognitive impairments, including memory problems, are a defining feature of dementia. These impairments can lead to anxiety, depression, and withdrawal from activities. The impact of these cognitive problems on daily activities increases pressure on caregivers.
Cognitive interventions aim to improve these impairments in people with mild to moderate dementia.
Primary Prevention3
Various vascular risk factors have been found to contribute to the development of dementia (e.g., hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, diabetes, overweight).
Physical exercise is important in promoting overall and vascular health. However, it is unclear whether physical exercise can decrease the risk of cognitive decline/dementia.
Nonpharmacologic and Nonexercise Interventions
Having more years of education (i.e., a higher cognitive reserve) is associated with a lower prevalence of dementia in crossectional population-based studies and a lower incidence of dementia in cohorts followed longitudinally. However, it is unclear whether cognitive training can increase cognitive reserve or decrease the risk of cognitive impairment, prevent or delay deterioration in the performance of ADLs or IADLs or reduce the incidence of dementia.
Description of Interventions
Physical exercise and nonpharmacologic/nonexercise interventions (e.g., cognitive training) for the primary and secondary prevention of dementia are assessed in this review.
Evidence-Based Analysis Methods
A comprehensive search strategy was used to identify systematic reviews and RCTs that examined the effectiveness, safety and cost effectiveness of exercise and cognitive interventions for the primary and secondary prevention of dementia.
Section 3.1: What is the effectiveness of physical exercise for the improvement or maintenance of ADLs in seniors with mild to moderate dementia?
Section 3.2: What is the effectiveness of nonpharmacologic/nonexercise interventions to improve cognitive functioning in seniors with mild to moderate dementia?
Section 3.3: Can exercise decrease the risk of subsequent cognitive decline/dementia?
Section 3.4: Does cognitive training decrease the risk of cognitive impairment, prevent or delay deterioration in the performance of ADLs or IADLs, or reduce the incidence of dementia in seniors with good cognitive and physical functioning?
Assessment of Quality of Evidence
The quality of the evidence was assessed as High, Moderate, Low, or Very low according to the GRADE methodology. As per GRADE the following definitions apply:
Summary of Findings
Table 2 summarizes the conclusions from Sections 3.1 through 3.4.
Summary of Conclusions on Patient-Directed Interventions*
Previous systematic review indicated that “cognitive training” is not effective in patients with dementia.
A recent RCT suggests that CST (up to 7 weeks) is effective for improving cognitive function and quality of life in patients with dementia.
Regular leisure time physical activity in midlife is associated with a reduced risk of dementia in later life (mean follow-up 21 years).
Regular physical activity in seniors is associated with a reduced risk of cognitive decline (mean follow-up 2 years).
Regular physical activity in seniors is associated with a reduced risk of dementia (mean follow-up 6–7 years).
Evidence that cognitive training for specific functions (memory, reasoning, and speed of processing) produces improvements in these specific domains.
Limited inconclusive evidence that cognitive training can offset deterioration in the performance of self-reported IADL scores and performance assessments.
1° indicates primary; 2°, secondary; CST, cognitive stimulation therapy; IADL, instrumental activities of daily living; RCT, randomized controlled trial.
Benefit/Risk Analysis
As per the GRADE Working Group, the overall recommendations consider 4 main factors:
the trade-offs, taking into account the estimated size of the effect for the main outcome, the confidence limits around those estimates, and the relative value placed on the outcome;
the quality of the evidence;
translation of the evidence into practice in a specific setting, taking into consideration important factors that could be expected to modify the size of the expected effects such as proximity to a hospital or availability of necessary expertise; and
uncertainty about the baseline risk for the population of interest.
The GRADE Working Group also recommends that incremental costs of health care alternatives should be considered explicitly alongside the expected health benefits and harms. Recommendations rely on judgments about the value of the incremental health benefits in relation to the incremental costs. The last column in Table 3 reflects the overall trade-off between benefits and harms (adverse events) and incorporates any risk/uncertainty (cost-effectiveness).
Overall Summary Statement of the Benefit and Risk for Patient-Directed Interventions*
Economic Analysis
Budget Impact Analysis of Effective Interventions for Dementia
Caregiver-directed behavioural techniques and patient-directed exercise programs were found to be effective when assessing mild to moderate dementia outcomes in seniors living in the community. Therefore, an annual budget impact was calculated based on eligible seniors in the community with mild and moderate dementia and their respective caregivers who were willing to participate in interventional home sessions. Table 4 describes the annual budget impact for these interventions.
Annual Budget Impact (2008 Canadian Dollars)
Assumed 7% prevalence of dementia aged 65+ in Ontario.
Assumed 8 weekly sessions plus 4 monthly phone calls.
Assumed 12 weekly sessions plus biweekly sessions thereafter (total of 20).
Assumed 2 sessions per week for first 5 weeks. Assumed 90% of seniors in the community with dementia have mild to moderate disease. Assumed 4.5% of seniors 65+ are in long-term care, and the remainder are in the community. Assumed a rate of participation of 60% for both patients and caregivers and of 41% for patient-directed exercise. Assumed 100% compliance since intervention administered at the home. Cost for trained staff from Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care data source. Assumed cost of personal support worker to be equivalent to in-home support. Cost for recreation therapist from Alberta government Website.
Note: This budget impact analysis was calculated for the first year after introducing the interventions from the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care perspective using prevalence data only. Prevalence estimates are for seniors in the community with mild to moderate dementia and their respective caregivers who are willing to participate in an interventional session administered at the home setting. Incidence and mortality rates were not factored in. Current expenditures in the province are unknown and therefore were not included in the analysis. Numbers may change based on population trends, rate of intervention uptake, trends in current programs in place in the province, and assumptions on costs. The number of patients was based on patients likely to access these interventions in Ontario based on assumptions stated below from the literature. An expert panel confirmed resource consumption.
PMCID: PMC3377513  PMID: 23074509
21.  Suppression of the HPA Axis Stress-Response: Implications for Relapse 
This article presents the proceedings of a symposium held at the meeting of the International Society for Biomedical Research on Alcoholism (ISBRA) in Mannheim, Germany, in October 2004. This symposium explored the potential role of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis dysregulation upon relapse. HPA axis stimulation induces the release of the glucocorticoid cortisol, a compound with profound effects upon behavior and emotion. Altered stress-responses of the HPA axis in abstinent alcohol-dependent subjects, therefore, may influence their affective and behavioral regulation, thus impacting their potential for relapse. Bryon Adinoff began the symposium with a review of HPA axis dysfunction in alcohol-dependent subjects, including recent studies from his lab demonstrating an attenuated glucocorticoid response to both endogenous and exogenous stimulation in one-month abstinent men. Klaus Junghanns presented his work demonstrating that a blunted ACTH or cortisol response to subjective stressors (social stressor or alcohol exposure) is predictive of a return to early drinking. The final two presenters examined the interaction between naltrexone and HPA responsiveness in alcohol-dependent or at-risk subjects, as naltrexone induces an increase in ACTH and cortisol. Falk Kiefer discussed the relationship between basal HPA axis responsivity and clinical outcome following treatment with naltrexone or acamprosate. Plasma ACTH significantly decreased over the course of the study in the medication groups, but not the placebo group. Lower basal concentrations of ACTH and cortisol were associated with quicker relapse in the placebo group only. Suchitra Krishnan-Sarin described her preliminary work, in which family-history positive (FH+) and family history negative (FH-) subjects were administered naltrexone, followed by an assessment of alcohol-induced craving. The cortisol response to alcohol was significantly and inversely related to craving in the FH+, but not the FH-, subjects. Alterations in HPA axis responsivity may therefore have a negative impact upon clinical outcome in alcohol-dependent subjects, and disinhibition of the axis with medication may have therapeutic potential.
PMCID: PMC2584966  PMID: 16088999
Adrenal Cortex; Alcoholism; Pituitary-Adrenal System; Naltrexone
22.  A Randomized Trial on Mineralocorticoid Receptor Blockade in Men: Effects on Stress Responses, Selective Attention, and Memory 
Neuropsychopharmacology  2011;36(13):2720-2728.
Corticosteroids, released in high amounts after stress, exert their effects via two different receptors in the brain: glucocorticoid receptors (GRs) and mineralocorticoid receptors (MRs). GRs have a role in normalizing stress-induced effects and promoting consolidation, while MRs are thought to be important in determining the threshold for activation of the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis. We investigated the effects of MR blockade on HPA axis responses to stress and stress-induced changes in cognitive function. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study, 64 healthy young men received 400 mg of the MR antagonist spironolactone or placebo. After 1.5 h, they were exposed to either a Trier Social Stress Test or a non-stressful control task. Responses to stress were evaluated by hormonal, subjective, and physiological measurements. Afterwards, selective attention, working memory, and long-term memory performance were assessed. Spironolactone increased basal salivary cortisol levels as well as cortisol levels in response to stress. Furthermore, spironolactone significantly impaired selective attention, but only in the control group. The stress group receiving spironolactone showed impaired working memory performance. By contrast, long-term memory was enhanced in this group. These data support a role of MRs in the regulation of the HPA axis under basal conditions as well as in response to stress. The increased availability of cortisol after spironolactone treatment implies enhanced GR activation, which, in combination with MR blockade, presumably resulted in a decreased MR/GR activation ratio. This condition influences both selective attention and performance in various memory tasks.
PMCID: PMC3230495  PMID: 21881569
mineralocorticoid receptor; spironolactone; psychosocial stress; cortisol; memory; selective attention; clinical pharmacology/clinical trials; cognition; learning & memory; psychiatry & behavioral sciences; mineralocorticoid receptor; spironolactone; psychosocial stress; cortisol; memory; selective attention
Brain research  2007;1186:212-223.
The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis habituates, or gradually decreases its activity, with repeated exposure to the same stressor. During habituation, the HPA axis likely requires input from cortical and limbic regions involved in processing of cognitive information that is important in coping to stress. Brain regions such as the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) are recognized as important in mediating these processes. The mPFC modulates stress-related behavior and some evidence suggests that the mPFC regulates acute and repeated stress-induced HPA responses. Interestingly, corticotropin releasing hormone(CRH)-1 receptors, which integrate neuroendocrine, behavioral and autonomic responses to stress, are localized in the mPFC but have not been specifically examined with respect to HPA regulation. We hypothesized that CRH receptor activity in the mPFC contributes to stress-induced regulation of HPA activity and anxiety-related behavior, and that CRH release in the mPFC may differentially regulate HPA responses in acutely- compared to repeatedly-stressed animals. In the present experiments, we found that blockade of CRH receptors in the mPFC with the non-selective receptor antagonist, D-Phe-CRH (50ng or 100ng) significantly inhibited HPA responses compared to vehicle regardless of whether animals were exposed to a single, acute 30min restraint or to the eighth 30min restraint. We also found that intra-mPFC injections of CRH (20ng) significantly increased anxiety-related behavior in the elevated plus maze in both acutely- and repeatedly-restrained groups compared to vehicle. Together, these results suggest an excitatory influence of CRH in the mPFC on stress-induced HPA activity and anxiety-related behavior regardless of prior stress experience.
PMCID: PMC2175080  PMID: 18001698
prefrontal cortex; corticotropin releasing hormone; restraint; anxiety; ACTH; corticosterone
24.  Neural control of chronic stress adaptation 
Stress initiates adaptive processes that allow the organism to physiologically cope with prolonged or intermittent exposure to real or perceived threats. A major component of this response is repeated activation of glucocorticoid secretion by the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) axis, which promotes redistribution of energy in a wide range of organ systems, including the brain. Prolonged or cumulative increases in glucocorticoid secretion can reduce benefits afforded by enhanced stress reactivity and eventually become maladaptive. The long-term impact of stress is kept in check by the process of habituation, which reduces HPA axis responses upon repeated exposure to homotypic stressors and likely limits deleterious actions of prolonged glucocorticoid secretion. Habituation is regulated by limbic stress-regulatory sites, and is at least in part glucocorticoid feedback-dependent. Chronic stress also sensitizes reactivity to new stimuli. While sensitization may be important in maintaining response flexibility in response to new threats, it may also add to the cumulative impact of glucocorticoids on the brain and body. Finally, unpredictable or severe stress exposure may cause long-term and lasting dysregulation of the HPA axis, likely due to altered limbic control of stress effector pathways. Stress-related disorders, such as depression and PTSD, are accompanied by glucocorticoid imbalances and structural/ functional alterations in limbic circuits that resemble those seen following chronic stress, suggesting that inappropriate processing of stressful information may be part of the pathological process.
PMCID: PMC3737713  PMID: 23964212
glucocorticoid receptor; hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal axis; limbic system; stress-related diseases; stress habituation; stress sensitization
25.  Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis functioning and dysfunctional attitude in depressed patients with and without childhood neglect 
BMC Psychiatry  2014;14:45.
To date, the relationships between childhood neglect, hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis functioning and dysfunctional attitude in depressed patients are still obscure.
The Childhood Trauma Questionnaire (CTQ) was used to assess childhood emotional neglect and physical neglect. Twenty-eight depressed patients with childhood neglect and 30 depressed patients without childhood neglect from Guangzhou Psychiatric Hospital were compared with 29 age- and gender-matched control subjects without childhood neglect and 22 control subjects with childhood neglect. Cortisol awakening response, the difference between the cortisol concentrations at awakening and 30 minutes later, provided a measure of HPA axis functioning. The Dysfunctional Attitude Scale measured cognitive schema.
HPA axis functioning was significantly increased in depressed patients with childhood neglect compared with depressed patients without childhood neglect (p < 0.001). HPA axis activity in the control group with childhood neglect was significantly higher than in the depressed group without childhood neglect (p < 0.001). Total scores of childhood neglect were positively correlated with HPA axis functioning and dysfunctional attitude scores, but not with severity of depression. We did not find correlations with HPA axis functioning and dysfunctional attitude or with the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression scores.
Childhood neglect may cause hyperactivity of the HPA axis functioning and dysfunctional attitude, but does not affect depression severity.
PMCID: PMC3937002  PMID: 24548345
Depression; Childhood neglect; HPA axis functioning; Dysfunctional attitude scale

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