A computer simulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis

Proc Annu Symp Comput Appl Med Care. 1994;1010.


This paper describes the construction of a computer model that simulates the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis) regulation of cortisol production. It is presented to illustrate the process of physiological modeling using standard "off the shelf" technologies. The model simulates components of the HPA axis involved in the continuous secretion and elimination of cortisol, adrenocorticotropin (ACTH), and corticotropin releasing hormone (CRH). The physiological relations of these component pieces were modeled based on the current knowledge of their functioning. Rate constants, half lives, and receptor affinities were assigned values derived from the experimental literature. At its current level of development the model is able to accurately simulate the timing, magnitude and decay of the ACTH and cortisol concentration peaks resulting from the ovine-CRH stimulation test in normal and hypercortisolemic patients. The model will be used to predict the effects of lesions in different components of the HPA axis on the time course of cortisol and ACTH levels. We plan to use the model to explore the experimental conditions required to distinguish mechanisms underlying various disorders of the HPA axis, particularly depression. Efforts are currently underway to validate the model for a large variety of normal and pathological perturbations of the HPA axis.

MeSH terms

  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone / metabolism
  • Computer Simulation*
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / metabolism
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / physiology*
  • Models, Biological*
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / physiology*


  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone
  • Hydrocortisone