Genetic analysis of the stress-responsive adrenocortical axis

Physiol Genomics. 2006 Nov 27;27(3):362-9. doi: 10.1152/physiolgenomics.00052.2006. Epub 2006 Aug 8.


The underlying genetic components contributing to individual variability in functions of the stress-responsive hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis are poorly understood. To determine genetic loci mediating three aspects of the adrenocortical function, we conducted a quantitative trait locus (QTL) analysis in the segregating F2 generation of a Wistar Kyoto (WKY) x Fischer 344 (F344) cross, two inbred rat strains that differ in several HPA axis measures. The following three components of adrenocortical function are known to be regulated by different mechanisms that are mediated via suprahypothalamic, hypothalamic, pituitary, and intra-adrenal influences: basal plasma corticosterone (Cort) levels, plasma Cort response to a 10-min restraint stress, and adrenal weight. Genome scans identified a complex genetic architecture for the basal Cort phenotype, including sex and maternal lineage effects. Pairwise interactions were also identified for this trait. We identified three significant and two suggestive QTLs for stress Cort, along with two pairs of interacting loci for this trait. Four highly significant and two suggestive loci were identified for adrenal weight, with no interacting loci. In contrast to basal Cort, no sex- or lineage-dependent QTL were identified for stress Cort or adrenal weight, despite the large sex differences in these phenotypes. We identified three nucleotide alterations in an obvious candidate gene mapped to the most significant QTL for stress Cort, Cort-binding globulin (CBG), one of which is known to alter CBG binding. This analysis confirms that three separate traits regulated by the HPA axis are controlled by multiple, but mainly nonoverlapping, QTLs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Glands / anatomy & histology
  • Adrenal Glands / physiopathology*
  • Animals
  • Carrier Proteins / genetics
  • Corticosterone / blood
  • Crosses, Genetic
  • Female
  • Genetic Variation
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / metabolism
  • Lod Score
  • Male
  • Organ Size
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / metabolism*
  • Quantitative Trait Loci*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred F344
  • Rats, Inbred WKY
  • Regression Analysis
  • Stress, Physiological / blood
  • Stress, Physiological / genetics*
  • Stress, Physiological / physiopathology*


  • Carrier Proteins
  • Corticosterone