The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) axis is a major neuroendocrine system involved in the regulation of numerous physiological processes and in adaptation to stress. A wide range of variability can be observed in all the components of the system, and the contribution of genetic factors has been shown in the central regulation of the axis, the production of glucocorticoid hormones by the adrenal cortex, their bioavailability, and the efficiency of their action at the level of receptor and postreceptor mechanisms. Numerous molecular polymorphisms have been described that contribute to physiological variation as well as to HPA axis-related pathological conditions. Although most studies focus on single gene polymorphisms, future studies should aim to integrate the different sources of variation into a systems genetic model to take into account the strong interdependence of the different components of the axis.
© 2011 New York Academy of Sciences.