Association between Stress and the HPA Axis in the Atopic Dermatitis

Int J Mol Sci. 2017 Oct 12;18(10):2131. doi: 10.3390/ijms18102131.


The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is one of the body's neuroendocrine networks that responds to psychological stress (PS). In the skin, there exists a peripheral HPA axis similar to the central axis. Glucocorticoids (GCs) are key effector molecules of the HPA axis and are essential for cutaneous homeostasis. Atopic dermatitis (AD) is a condition typically characterized by a chronic relapsing course that often results in PS. HPA dysfunction is present in AD patients by the decreased response of GCs elevation to stress as compared to those unaffected by AD. Nevertheless, in skin, acute PS activates several metabolic responses that are of immediate benefit to the host. During the acute phase of PS, increased endogenous GCs have been shown to provide benefit rather than by aggravating cutaneous inflammatory dermatoses. However, a chronic T helper cell type 2 (Th2) predominant cytokine profile acts as a negative feedback loop to blunt the HPA axis response in AD. In this article, we reviewed the role of CRF, pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC)-derived peptides, GCs of the HPA, and 11β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase 1 (11β-HSD1) in AD, with a discussion of the pathogenetic mechanisms of inflammation and skin barrier functions, including antimicrobial defense, and their association with PS.

Keywords: HPA axis; atopic dermatitis; glucocorticoid; inflammation; psychological stress; skin barrier.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomarkers
  • Dermatitis, Atopic / etiology*
  • Dermatitis, Atopic / metabolism*
  • Dermatitis, Atopic / pathology
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Glucocorticoids / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / metabolism*
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction
  • Stress, Physiological*
  • Stress, Psychological*


  • Biomarkers
  • Glucocorticoids