Adrenal insufficiency and colonic inflammation after a novel chronic psycho-social stress paradigm in mice: implications and mechanisms

Endocrinology. 2007 Feb;148(2):670-82. doi: 10.1210/en.2006-0983. Epub 2006 Nov 16.


We investigated chronic psycho-social stress effects on stress-related parameters and on pathohistological changes in the murine colon. Moreover, we aimed to reveal the involvement of adrenal glucocorticoids in chronic stress effects. Chronic subordinate colony housing (CSC, 19 d) resulted in reduced body weight gain, thymus atrophy, adrenal hypertrophy, increased plasma norepinephrine, and increased anxiety. With respect to the time course of CSC effects, CRH mRNA in the hypothalamic paraventricular nucleus, light phase corticosterone and tyrosine hydroxylase expression in colonic tissue were found to be increased, whereas tyrosine hydroxylase expression in the locus coeruleus was found to be decreased on d 2 of CSC; these parameters returned to control levels thereafter. Nevertheless, after 19 d of CSC exposure, the adrenal corticosterone responses in vivo and in vitro, and glucocorticoid sensitivity of isolated splenic cells were found to be decreased. Importantly, in CSC mice a significant histological damage of the colon was found beginning on d 14 of CSC exposure. Additionally, pro- and antiinflammatory cytokine secretion by mesenteric lymph node cells was increased after CSC exposure. Adrenalectomy before CSC at least partially prevented these chronic stress effects as reflected by less increase in proinflammatory cytokine secretion and an equal histological damage score in adrenalectomized compared with sham-operated CSC mice. In conclusion, chronic exposure to CSC alters relevant neuronal, neuroendocrine and immune functions that could be directly or indirectly involved in the damage of the histological integrity of the colon comparable with that seen during the development of colitis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Glands / metabolism
  • Adrenal Glands / pathology
  • Adrenal Insufficiency / etiology*
  • Adrenalectomy
  • Animals
  • Body Weight
  • Colitis / etiology*
  • Colon / enzymology
  • Colon / pathology
  • Corticosterone / blood
  • Corticosterone / metabolism
  • Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone / genetics
  • Cytokines / metabolism
  • Housing, Animal
  • Locus Coeruleus / enzymology
  • Lymph Nodes / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Organ Size
  • Paraventricular Hypothalamic Nucleus / metabolism
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Stress, Psychological / complications*
  • Stress, Psychological / metabolism
  • Stress, Psychological / pathology
  • Thymus Gland / pathology
  • Time Factors
  • Tyrosine 3-Monooxygenase / metabolism


  • Cytokines
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone
  • Tyrosine 3-Monooxygenase
  • Corticosterone