Marked differences in functioning of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis between groups of men

J Appl Physiol (1985). 1997 Jun;82(6):1979-88. doi: 10.1152/jappl.1997.82.6.1979.


To compare profiles of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) responsiveness, healthy, moderately trained men (n = 15) were classified as high (n = 7) or low responders (n = 8) on the basis of plasma adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) responses to strenuous treadmill exercise 4 h after 4 mg of dexamethasone (Dex). These groups were then evaluated to compare 1) HPA and growth hormone responses to exercise at 90% maximal oxygen uptake 4 h after placebo, Dex (4 mg), and hydrocortisone (100 mg); 2) pituitary-adrenal responses to infusion of arginine vasopressin (AVP); 3) plasma cortisol after a Dex suppression test (1 mg); and 4) behavioral characteristics. In comparison to low responders, high responders exhibited significantly 1) higher plasma ACTH responses to exercise after placebo and Dex; 2) higher plasma AVP secretion with exercise after placebo and marked Dex- and hydrocortisone-induced enhancement of exercise-induced AVP secretion; 3) lower Dex-induced increases in basal and stimulated growth hormone secretion; 4) higher plasma ACTH responses to infusion of AVP; and 5) a trend (P = 0.09) for higher trait anxiety ratings. Similar suppression of plasma cortisol was noted after 1 mg Dex. We conclude that subgroups of healthy male volunteers exhibit unique profiles of HPA responsiveness. We also believe that glucocorticoid pretreatment combined with strenuous exercise allows functional HPA responsiveness to be distinguished between subgroups of healthy controls and may be useful in the determination of susceptibility to disorders characterized by hyper- and hypo-HPA activation.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Controlled Clinical Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone / blood
  • Adult
  • Anxiety / psychology
  • Arginine Vasopressin / blood
  • Arginine Vasopressin / pharmacology
  • Dexamethasone / pharmacology
  • Endocrine Glands / physiology
  • Exercise
  • Glucocorticoids / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / blood
  • Hydrocortisone / pharmacology
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / physiology*
  • Male
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / physiology*
  • Receptors, Glucocorticoid / agonists


  • Glucocorticoids
  • Receptors, Glucocorticoid
  • Arginine Vasopressin
  • Dexamethasone
  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone
  • Hydrocortisone