An energetic view of stress: Focus on mitochondria

Front Neuroendocrinol. 2018 Apr:49:72-85. doi: 10.1016/j.yfrne.2018.01.001. Epub 2018 Jan 12.


Energy is required to sustain life and enable stress adaptation. At the cellular level, energy is largely derived from mitochondria - unique multifunctional organelles with their own genome. Four main elements connect mitochondria to stress: (1) Energy is required at the molecular, (epi)genetic, cellular, organellar, and systemic levels to sustain components of stress responses; (2) Glucocorticoids and other steroid hormones are produced and metabolized by mitochondria; (3) Reciprocally, mitochondria respond to neuroendocrine and metabolic stress mediators; and (4) Experimentally manipulating mitochondrial functions alters physiological and behavioral responses to psychological stress. Thus, mitochondria are endocrine organelles that provide both the energy and signals that enable and direct stress adaptation. Neural circuits regulating social behavior - as well as psychopathological processes - are also influenced by mitochondrial energetics. An integrative view of stress as an energy-driven process opens new opportunities to study mechanisms of adaptation and regulation across the lifespan.

Keywords: ATP; Brain; CORT; Chronic stress; HPA axis; Mitochondrial signaling; Mitochondrion; Mitokine; Stress pathophysiology; mtDNA.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Catecholamines / metabolism*
  • Depression / metabolism*
  • Epigenesis, Genetic / physiology*
  • Feeding Behavior*
  • Glucocorticoids / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Mitochondria / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*
  • Social Behavior*
  • Stress, Physiological / physiology*
  • Stress, Psychological / metabolism*


  • Catecholamines
  • Glucocorticoids