Epinephrine: a short- and long-term regulator of stress and development of illness : a potential new role for epinephrine in stress

Cell Mol Neurobiol. 2012 Jul;32(5):737-48. doi: 10.1007/s10571-011-9768-0. Epub 2011 Nov 17.


Epinephrine (Epi), which initiates short-term responses to cope with stress, is, in part, stress-regulated via genetic control of its biosynthetic enzyme, phenylethanolamine N-methyltransferase (PNMT). In rats, immobilization (IMMO) stress activates the PNMT gene in the adrenal medulla via Egr-1 and Sp1 induction. Yet, elevated Epi induced by acute and chronic stress is associated with stress induced, chronic illnesses of cardiovascular, immune, cancerous, and behavioral etiologies. Major sources of Epi include the adrenal medulla and brainstem. Although catecholamines do not cross the blood-brain barrier, circulating Epi from the adrenal medulla may communicate with the central nervous system and stress circuitry by activating vagal nerve β-adrenergic receptors to release norepinephrine, which could then stimulate release of the same from the nucleus tractus solitarius and locus coeruleus. In turn, the basal lateral amygdala (BLA) may activate to stimulate afferents to the hypothalamus, neocortex, hippocampus, caudate nucleus, and other brain regions sequentially. Recently, we have shown that repeated IMMO or force swim stress may evoke stress resiliency, as suggested by changes in expression and extinction of fear memory in the fear-potentiated startle paradigm. However, concomitant adrenergic changes seem stressor dependent. Present studies aim to identify stressful conditions that elicit stress resiliency versus stress sensitivity, with the goal of developing a model to investigate the potential role of Epi in stress-associated illness. If chronic Epi over expression does elicit illness, possibilities for alternative therapeutics exist through regulating stress-induced Epi expression, adrenergic receptor function and/or corticosteroid effects on Epi, adrenergic receptors and the stress axis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adrenergic Agents
  • Animals
  • Disease*
  • Epinephrine / chemistry
  • Epinephrine / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Signal Transduction
  • Stress, Psychological / metabolism*
  • Time Factors


  • Adrenergic Agents
  • Epinephrine