Glucocorticoids as a biological substrate of reward: physiological and pathophysiological implications

Brain Res Brain Res Rev. 1997 Dec;25(3):359-72. doi: 10.1016/s0165-0173(97)00025-8.


The observations presented in this review suggest that glucocorticoids are one of the biological substrates of reward. These hormones are secreted in response to rewarding stimuli, such as food, a receptive sexual partner or drugs of abuse. Furthermore, manipulations of the secretion of glucocorticoids modify reward-related behaviours, and administration of these hormones, in the range of physiological stress levels, has positive reinforcing effects. The rewarding effects of glucocorticoids are probably mediated by a glucocorticoid-induced stimulation of the mesencephalic dopaminergic transmission, one of the principal neural substrates of reward. It is proposed that the rewarding effects of glucocorticoids play the role of counteracting the aversive effects of external aggressions, allowing a better coping with threatening situations. However, a sustained increase in the secretion of these hormones, or an hypersensitivity to their rewarding effects, could determine reward-related pathologies, such as a predisposed state to develop drug-abuse. In conclusion, through their reward-related effects, glucocorticoids may play a key role in tuning adaptation to stress and in determining reward-related behavioral pathologies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Glucocorticoids / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Reward*
  • Stress, Psychological / metabolism
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology*


  • Glucocorticoids