Role of corticosterone in altered neurobehavioral responses to acute stress in a model of compromised hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis function

Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2019 Apr:102:248-255. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2018.12.010. Epub 2018 Dec 11.


An organism's capacity to cope with stressful experiences is dependent on its ability to appropriately engage central and peripheral systems, such as the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, to adapt to changing environmental demands. The HPA axis is a primary neuroendocrine mediator of neural and behavioral responses to stress, and dysfunction of this system is linked to increased risk for developing mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. However, the mechanisms by which dysregulated HPA function results in abnormal behavioral responses to stress are poorly understood. Here, we tested how corticosterone (CORT)-induced HPA axis disruption affects behavioral responses to stress in male C57BL/6 N mice, and probed correlates of these behaviors in the brain. We show that chronic HPA disruption blunts acute stress-induced grooming and rearing behaviors in the open field test, effects which were accompanied by decreased FOS immunoreactivity in the paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus (PVH) and paraventricular nucleus of the thalamus (PVT). Blockade of CORT secretion with metyrapone injection prior to acute stress did not recapitulate the effects of chronic HPA disruption on open field behavior, and acute CORT replacement did not rescue normal behavioral stress responses following chronic HPA disruption. This suggests that under acute conditions, CORT is not necessary for these responses normally, nor sufficient to rescue the deficits of chronic HPA dysregulation. Together, these findings support the hypothesis that chronic HPA dysregulation causes adaptation in stress-related brain circuits and demonstrate that these changes can influence an organism's behavioral response to stress exposure.

Keywords: Brain; FOS; Glucocorticoids; Grooming; Rearing.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anxiety / physiopathology
  • Anxiety Disorders / physiopathology
  • Corticosterone / metabolism*
  • Corticosterone / pharmacology*
  • Corticosterone / physiology
  • Depression / physiopathology
  • Depressive Disorder / physiopathology
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / physiopathology
  • Hypothalamus / drug effects
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Neurosecretory Systems / drug effects
  • Pituitary Gland / drug effects
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / physiopathology
  • Stress, Psychological / metabolism*


  • Corticosterone