In vitro modeling of the neurobiological effects of glucocorticoids: A review

Neurobiol Stress. 2023 Feb 23:23:100530. doi: 10.1016/j.ynstr.2023.100530. eCollection 2023 Mar.


Hypothalamic-pituitary adrenal (HPA)axis dysregulation has long been implicated in stress-related disorders such as major depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Glucocorticoids (GCs) are released from the adrenal glands as a result of HPA-axis activation. The release of GCs is implicated with several neurobiological changes that are associated with negative consequences of chronic stress and the onset and course of psychiatric disorders. Investigating the underlying neurobiological effects of GCs may help to better understand the pathophysiology of stress-related psychiatric disorders. GCs impact a plethora of neuronal processes at the genetic, epigenetic, cellular, and molecular levels. Given the scarcity and difficulty in accessing human brain samples, 2D and 3D in vitro neuronal cultures are becoming increasingly useful in studying GC effects. In this review, we provide an overview of in vitro studies investigating the effects of GCs on key neuronal processes such as proliferation and survival of progenitor cells, neurogenesis, synaptic plasticity, neuronal activity, inflammation, genetic vulnerability, and epigenetic alterations. Finally, we discuss the challenges in the field and offer suggestions for improving the use of in vitro models to investigate GC effects.

Keywords: Glucocorticoids; In vitro models; Neurobiology; Psychiatry; Stress; Stress disorders.

Publication types

  • Review