Epigenetics/Programming in the HPA Axis

Compr Physiol. 2015 Dec 15;6(1):87-110. doi: 10.1002/cphy.c140027.


The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis provides physiological adaptations to various environmental stimuli in mammals. These stimuli including maternal care, diet, immune challenge, stress, and others have the potential to stably modify or program the functioning of the HPA axis when experienced early in life or at later critical stages of development. Epigenetic mechanisms mediate the biological embedding of environmental stimuli or conditions. These changes are influenced by the genotype and both, environment and genotype contribute to the development of a specific phenotype with regard to the stress response that might be more susceptible or resilient to the development of mental conditions. The effects of stress might be a result of cumulative stress or a mismatch between the environments experienced early in life versus the conditions much later. These effects including the associated epigenetic modifications are potentially reversible.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chromatin Assembly and Disassembly
  • Epigenesis, Genetic*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental*
  • Humans
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / growth & development
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / metabolism*
  • Neurogenesis / genetics*
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / growth & development
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / metabolism*