Stress, corticotropin-releasing hormone, glucocorticoids, and the immune/inflammatory response: acute and chronic effects

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 1999 Jun 22;876:1-11; discussion 11-3. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.1999.tb07618.x.


Corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) influences the immune system indirectly, through activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and sympathetic system, and directly, through local modulatory actions of peripheral (immune) CRH. We recently demonstrated that catecholamines and histamine potently inhibited interleukin (IL)-12 and stimulated IL-10, whereas glucocorticoids suppressed IL-12, but did not affect IL-10 production ex vivo. Thus, both glucocorticoids and catecholamines, the end products of the stress system, and histamine, a product of activated mast cells, may selectively suppress cellular immunity and favor humoral immune responses. We localized immunoreactive CRH in experimental carrageenin-induced aseptic inflammation and, in humans, in inflamed tissues from patients with several autoimmune disease. In addition, we demonstrated that CRH activated mast cells via a CRH receptor type 1-dependent mechanism, leading to release of histamine and hence vasodilatation and increased vascular permeability. Thus, activation of the stress system, through direct and indirect effects of CRH, may influence the susceptibility of an individual to certain autoimmune, allergic, infectious or neoplastic diseases. Antalarmin, a novel nonpeptide CRH antagonist, prevented several proinflammatory effects of CRH, thus revealing its therapeutic potential in some forms of inflammation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone / physiology*
  • Glucocorticoids / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Immune System / physiopathology*
  • Inflammation / etiology*
  • Stress, Physiological / complications*
  • Stress, Physiological / physiopathology*
  • Time Factors


  • Glucocorticoids
  • Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone