Stress-induced alterations in estradiol sensitivity increase risk for obesity in women

Physiol Behav. 2016 Nov 1;166:56-64. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2016.05.016. Epub 2016 May 13.


The prevalence of obesity in the United States continues to rise, increasing individual vulnerability to an array of adverse health outcomes. One factor that has been implicated causally in the increased accumulation of fat and excess food intake is the activity of the limbic-hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (LHPA) axis in the face of relentless stressor exposure. However, translational and clinical research continues to understudy the effects sex and gonadal hormones and LHPA axis dysfunction in the etiology of obesity even though women continue to be at greater risk than men for stress-induced disorders, including depression, emotional feeding and obesity. The current review will emphasize the need for sex-specific evaluation of the relationship between stress exposure and LHPA axis activity on individual risk for obesity by summarizing data generated by animal models currently being leveraged to determine the etiology of stress-induced alterations in feeding behavior and metabolism. There exists a clear lack of translational models that have been used to study female-specific risk. One translational model of psychosocial stress exposure that has proven fruitful in elucidating potential mechanisms by which females are at increased risk for stress-induced adverse health outcomes is that of social subordination in socially housed female macaque monkeys. Data from subordinate female monkeys suggest that increased risk for emotional eating and the development of obesity in females may be due to LHPA axis-induced changes in the behavioral and physiological sensitivity of estradiol. The lack in understanding of the mechanisms underlying these alterations necessitate the need to account for the effects of sex and gonadal hormones in the rationale, design, implementation, analysis and interpretation of results in our studies of stress axis function in obesity. Doing so may lead to the identification of novel therapeutic targets with which to combat stress-induced obesity exclusively in females.

Keywords: Animal models; Estradiol; Glucocorticoids; Obesity; Sex differences; Stress axis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Estradiol / administration & dosage*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Obesity / epidemiology*
  • Obesity / etiology*
  • Risk Factors
  • Stress, Psychological / complications*
  • Stress, Psychological / epidemiology*


  • Estradiol