Corticosterone Production during Repeated Social Defeat Causes Monocyte Mobilization from the Bone Marrow, Glucocorticoid Resistance, and Neurovascular Adhesion Molecule Expression

J Neurosci. 2018 Feb 28;38(9):2328-2340. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2568-17.2018. Epub 2018 Jan 30.


Repeated social defeat (RSD) stress promotes the release of bone marrow-derived monocytes into circulation that are recruited to the brain, where they augment neuroinflammation and cause prolonged anxiety-like behavior. Physiological stress activates the sympathetic nervous system and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal gland (HPA) axis, and both of these systems play a role in the physiological, immunological, and behavioral responses to stress. The purpose of this study was to delineate the role of HPA activation and corticosterone production in the immunological responses to stress in male C57BL/6 mice. Here, surgical (adrenalectomy) and pharmacological (metyrapone) interventions were used to abrogate corticosterone signaling during stress. We report that both adrenalectomy and metyrapone attenuated the stress-induced release of monocytes into circulation. Neither intervention altered the production of monocytes during stress, but both interventions enhanced retention of these cells in the bone marrow. Consistent with this observation, adrenalectomy and metyrapone also prevented the stress-induced reduction of a key retention factor, CXCL12, in the bone marrow. Corticosterone depletion with metyrapone also abrogated the stress-induced glucocorticoid resistance of myeloid cells. In the brain, these corticosterone-associated interventions attenuated stress-induced microglial remodeling, neurovascular expression of the adhesion molecule intercellular cell adhesion molecule-1, prevented monocyte accumulation and neuroinflammatory signaling. Overall, these results indicate that HPA activation and corticosterone production during repeated social defeat stress are critical for monocyte release into circulation, glucocorticoid resistance of myeloid cells, and enhanced neurovascular cell adhesion molecule expression.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Recent studies of stress have identified the presence of monocytes that show an exaggerated inflammatory response to immune challenge and are resistant to the suppressive effects of glucocorticoids. Increased presence of these proinflammatory monocytes has been implicated in neuropsychiatric symptoms and the development of chronic cardiovascular, autoimmune, and metabolic disorders. In the current study, we show novel evidence that corticosterone produced during stress enhances the release of proinflammatory monocytes from the bone marrow into circulation, augments their recruitment to the brain and the induction of a neuroinflammatory profile. Overproduction of corticosterone during stress is also the direct cause of glucocorticoid resistance, a key phenotype in individuals exposed to chronic stress. Inhibiting excess corticosterone production attenuates these inflammatory responses to stress.

Keywords: HPA axis; corticosterone; inflammation; monocytes; repeated social defeat.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bone Marrow Cells / immunology
  • Cell Movement / immunology
  • Corticosterone / immunology*
  • Corticosterone / metabolism
  • Glucocorticoids / pharmacology
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / physiology
  • Intercellular Adhesion Molecule-1 / biosynthesis*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Monocytes / immunology*
  • Myeloid Cells / drug effects
  • Myeloid Cells / immunology
  • Neuroimmunomodulation / immunology*
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / physiology
  • Stress, Psychological / immunology*
  • Stress, Psychological / metabolism
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology


  • Glucocorticoids
  • Intercellular Adhesion Molecule-1
  • Corticosterone