Thyroid hormones are essential regulators of growth, development and normal bodily function and their release is coordinated by the hypothalamic-pituitary-thyroid (HPT) axis. While the HPT axis has been established as an acutely stress-responsive neuroendocrine system, relatively little is known about the mechanisms of its stress regulation. The present study examined acute stress-induced changes in peripheral hormone levels [triiodothyronine (T3); thyroxine (T4), thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), reverse triiodothyronine (rT3)] and central mRNA levels of regulators of the HPT axis [thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH), somatostatin (SST), type II deiodinase (D2)] in response to an inescapable tail-shock, a rodent model of stress. Additionally, we examined whether individual differences in spontaneous exploratory behavior in an open field test predicted basal levels of TH or differential susceptibility to the effects of stress. The stress condition was associated with decreases in peripheral T3, T4 and TSH, but not rT3, when compared with controls. No changes were observed in TRH or SST mRNA levels, but there was a trend suggesting stress-related increases in D2 mRNA. We also found that an animal's exploratory behavior in an unfamiliar open field arena was positively related to peripheral thyroid hormone levels and predicted the magnitude of stress-induced changes. In conclusion, we found suggestive evidence for stress-induced decrease in central drive HPT axis, but the central mechanisms of its stress regulation remain to be elucidated. Additionally, we found that individual differences in animals' exploratory behavior were correlated with peripheral TH levels.
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