Functional cross-talk between the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal and -adrenal axes

J Neuroendocrinol. 2002 Jun;14(6):506-13. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2826.2002.00798.x.


Under normal conditions, the adrenal glucocorticoids, the endproduct of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, provide a frontline of defence against threats to homeostasis (i.e. stress). On the other hand, chronic HPA drive and glucocorticoid hypersecretion have been implicated in the pathogenesis of several forms of systemic, neurodegenerative and affective disorders. The HPA axis is subject to gonadal influence, indicated by sex differences in basal and stress HPA function and neuropathologies associated with HPA dysfunction. Functional cross-talk between the gonadal and adrenal axes is due in large part to the interactive effects of sex steroids and glucocorticoids, explaining perhaps why several disease states linked to stress are sex-dependent. Realizing the interactive nature by which the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal and HPA systems operate, however, has made it difficult to model how these hormones act in the brain. Manipulation of one endocrine system is not without effects on the other. Simultaneous manipulation and assessment of both endocrine systems can overcome this problem. This dual approach in the male rat reveals that testosterone can act and interact on different aspects of basal and stress HPA function. Basal adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) release is regulated by testosterone-dependent effects on arginine vasopressin synthesis, and corticosterone-dependent effects on corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) synthesis in the paraventricular nucleus (PVN) of the hypothalamus. In contrast, testosterone and corticosterone interact on stress-induced ACTH release and drive to the PVN motor neurones. Candidate structures mediating this interaction include several testosterone-sensitive afferents to the HPA axis, including the medial preoptic area, central and medial amygdala and bed nuclei of the stria terminalis. All of these relay homeostatic information and integrate reproductive and social behaviour. Because these modalities are affected by stress in humans, a dual systems approach holds great promise in establishing further links between the neuroendocrinology of stress and the central bases of sex-dependent disorders, including psychiatric, cardiovascular and metabolic disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / physiology
  • Gonads / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / physiology
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / physiology*
  • Testosterone / physiology


  • Testosterone