The role of endorphins in stress: evidence and speculations

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 1980 Spring;4(1):77-86. doi: 10.1016/0149-7634(80)90027-5.


Several lines of evidence suggest that the endogenous opioid peptides endorphins may play a role in the defensive response of the organism to stress. The present paper summarizes these findings as well as evidence linking endorphins to the anterior pituitary polypeptide hormone adrenocorticotropin (ACTH). Evidence is presented that endorphins may function as trophic hormones in peripheral target organs such as the adrenal medulla and the pancreas. As such they may be part of the physiological mechanisms that mediate adrenaline and glucagon release in response to stress. Endorphins (enkephalins) are also suggested to play a role in the control of the pituitary gland during stress. In such capacity they may act as hormone-releasing or inhibiting factors. Finally, endorphins appear to play a role in the behavioral concomitants of stress. In such capacity endorphins are suggested to function as modulators of neural systems that mediate the elaboration and expression of the reactive/affective components of stress. Speculations on the mode of interaction between endorphins and ACTH in the global response to stress are discussed.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Adrenal Medulla / physiology
  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone / physiology
  • Animals
  • Chemical Phenomena
  • Chemistry
  • Emotions / physiology
  • Endorphins / physiology*
  • Epinephrine / metabolism
  • Glucagon / physiology
  • Humans
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / physiology
  • Insulin / physiology
  • Islets of Langerhans / physiology
  • Naloxone
  • Pain / physiopathology
  • Pituitary Gland / physiology
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / physiology
  • Rats
  • Receptors, Opioid / physiology
  • Stress, Physiological / physiopathology*
  • Stress, Psychological / physiology
  • Vasopressins / physiology


  • Endorphins
  • Insulin
  • Receptors, Opioid
  • Vasopressins
  • Naloxone
  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone
  • Glucagon
  • Epinephrine