The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis regulates the outflow of glucocorticoid hormones under basal conditions and in response to stress. Within the last decade, a large body of evidence has mounted indicating that the endocannabinoid system is involved in the central regulation of the stress response; however, the specific role endocannabinoid signaling plays in phases of HPA axis regulation, and the neural sites of action mediating this regulation, were not mapped out until recently. This review aims to collapse the current state of knowledge regarding the role of the endocannabinoid system in the regulation of the HPA axis to put together a working model of how and where endocannabinoids act within the brain to regulate outflow of the HPA axis. Specifically, we discuss the role of the endocannabinoid system in the regulation of the HPA axis under basal conditions, activation in response to acute stress, and glucocorticoid-mediated negative feedback. Interestingly, there appears to be some anatomical specificity to the role of the endocannabinoid system in each phase of HPA axis regulation, as well as distinct roles of both anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglycerol in these phases. Overall, the current level of information indicates that endocannabinoid signaling acts to suppress HPA axis activity through concerted actions within the prefrontal cortex, amygdala, and hypothalamus.
Copyright Â© 2011 IBRO. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.