The role of the hippocampus in feedback regulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical axis

Endocr Rev. 1991 May;12(2):118-34. doi: 10.1210/edrv-12-2-118.


There is considerable, although not entirely consistent, evidence that the hippocampus inhibits most aspects of HPA activity, including basal (circadian nadir) and circadian peak secretion as well as the onset and termination of responses to stress. Although much of the evidence for these effects rests only on the measurement of corticosteroids, recent lesion and implant studies indicate that the hippocampus regulates adrenocortical activity at the hypothalamic level, via the expression and secretion of ACTH secretagogues. Such inhibition results largely from the mediation of corticosteroid feedback, although more work is required to determine whether the hippocampus supplies a tonic inhibitory input in the absence of corticosteroids. It must be noted that the hippocampus is not the only feedback site in the adrenocortical system, since removal of its input only reduces, but does not abolish, the efficacy of corticosteroid inhibition, and since other elements of the axis appear eventually to compensate for deficits in feedback regulation. The importance of other feedback sites is further suggested not only by the presence of corticosteroid receptors in other parts of the brain and pituitary, but also by the improved prediction of CRF levels by combined hypothalamic and hippocampal receptor occupancy. The likelihood of feedback mediated by nonhippocampal sites underscores the need for future work to characterize hippocampal influence on HPA activity in the absence of changes in corticosteroid secretion. However, despite the fact that the hippocampus is not the only feedback site, it is distinguished from most potential feedback sites, including the hypothalamus and pituitary, by its high content of both type I and II corticosteroid receptors. The hippocampus is therefore capable of mediating inhibition over a wide range of steroid levels. The low end of this range is represented by corticosteroid inhibition of basal (circadian nadir) HPA activity. The apparent type I receptor specificity of this inhibition and the elevation of trough corticosteroid levels after hippocampal damage support a role for hippocampal type I receptors in regulating basal HPA activity. It is possible that basal activity is controlled in part through hippocampal inhibition of vasopressin, since the inhibition of portal blood vasopressin correlates with lower levels of hippocampal receptor occupancy, and the expression of vasopressin by some CRF neurons is sensitive to very low corticosteroid levels. At the high end of the physiological range, stress-induced or circadian peak corticosteroid secretion correlates strongly with occupancy of the lower affinity hippocampal type II receptors.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Cortex / physiology*
  • Aging / physiology
  • Animals
  • Feedback
  • Hippocampus / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Hypothalamus / physiology*
  • Mental Disorders / physiopathology
  • Pituitary Gland / physiology*