Glucocorticoids modulate the mTOR pathway in the hippocampus: differential effects depending on stress history

Endocrinology. 2012 Sep;153(9):4317-27. doi: 10.1210/en.2012-1255. Epub 2012 Jul 9.


Glucocorticoid (GC) hormones, released by the adrenals in response to stress, are key regulators of neuronal plasticity. In the brain, the hippocampus is a major target of GC, with abundant expression of the GC receptor. GC differentially affect the hippocampal transcriptome and consequently neuronal plasticity in a subregion-specific manner, with consequences for hippocampal information flow and memory formation. Here, we show that GC directly affect the mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) signaling pathway, which plays a central role in translational control and has long-lasting effects on the plasticity of specific brain circuits. We demonstrate that regulators of the mTOR pathway, DNA damage-induced transcript (DDIT)4 and FK506-binding protein 51 are transcriptionally up-regulated by an acute GC challenge in the dentate gyrus (DG) subregion of the rat hippocampus, most likely via a GC-response element-driven mechanism. Furthermore, two other mTOR pathway members, the mTOR regulator DDIT4-like and the mTOR target DDIT3, are down-regulated by GC in the rat DG. Interestingly, the GC responsiveness of DDIT4 and DDIT3 was lost in animals with a recent history of chronic stress. Basal hippocampal mTOR protein levels were higher in animals exposed to chronic stress than in controls. Moreover, an acute GC challenge significantly reduced mTOR protein levels in the hippocampus of animals with a chronic stress history but not in unstressed controls. Based on these findings, we propose that direct regulation of the mTOR pathway by GC represents an important mechanism regulating neuronal plasticity in the rat DG, which changes after exposure to chronic stress.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Blotting, Western
  • Chromatin Immunoprecipitation
  • Glucocorticoids / pharmacology*
  • Hippocampus / drug effects*
  • Hippocampus / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Protein Binding
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects*
  • Signal Transduction / genetics
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases / genetics
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases / metabolism*
  • Transcription Factor CHOP / genetics
  • Transcription Factor CHOP / metabolism
  • Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism


  • Glucocorticoids
  • Transcription Factors
  • Transcription Factor CHOP
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • mTOR protein, rat