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Open access

Peter Ergang, Anna Mikulecká, Martin Vodicˇka, Karla Vagnerová, Ivan Mikšík, and Jirˇí Pácha

Stress is an important risk factors for human diseases. It activates the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis and increases plasma glucocorticoids, which are powerful regulators of immune system. The response of the target cells to glucocorticoids depends not only on the plasma concentrations of cortisol and corticosterone but also on their local metabolism. This metabolism is catalyzed by 11β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenases type 1 and 2, which interconvert glucocorticoid hormones cortisol and corticosterone and their 11-oxo metabolites cortisone and 11-dehydrocorticosterone. The goal of this study was to determine whether stress modulates glucocorticoid metabolism within lymphoid organs – the structures where immune cells undergo development and activation. Using the resident-intruder paradigm, we studied the effect of social stress on glucocorticoid metabolism in primary and secondary lymphoid organs of Fisher 344 (F344) and Lewis (LEW) rats, which exhibit marked differences in their HPA axis response to social stressors and inflammation. We show that repeated social defeat increased the regeneration of corticosterone from 11-dehydrocorticosterone in the thymus, spleen and mesenteric lymphatic nodes (MLN). Compared with the F344 strain, LEW rats showed higher corticosterone regeneration in splenocytes of unstressed rats and in thymic and MLN mobile cells after stress but corticosterone regeneration in the stroma of all lymphoid organs was similar in both strains. Inactivation of corticosterone to 11-dehydrocorticosterone was found only in the stroma of lymphoid organs but not in mobile lymphoid cells and was not upregulated by stress. Together, our findings demonstrate the tissue- and strain-dependent regeneration of glucocorticoids following social stress.

Open access

Clara Odilia Sailer, Sophia Julia Wiedemann, Konrad Strauss, Ingeborg Schnyder, Wiebke Kristin Fenske, and Mirjam Christ-Crain

Osmotic stimulus or stress results in vasopressin release. Animal and human in vitro studies have shown that inflammatory parameters, such as interleukin-8 (IL-8) and tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α), increase in parallel in the central nervous system and bronchial, corneal or intestinal epithelial cell lines in response to osmotic stimulus. Whether osmotic stimulus directly causes a systemic inflammatory response in humans is unknown. We therefore investigated the influence of osmotic stimulus on circulatory markers of systemic inflammation in healthy volunteers. In this prospective cohort study, 44 healthy volunteers underwent a standardized test protocol with an osmotic stimulus leading into the hyperosmotic/hypernatremic range (serum sodium ≥150 mmol/L) by hypertonic saline infusion. Copeptin – a marker indicating vasopressin activity – serum sodium and osmolality, plasma IL-8 and TNF-α were measured at baseline and directly after osmotic stimulus. Median (range) serum sodium increased from 141 mmol/L (136, 147) to 151 mmol/L (145, 154) (P < 0.01), serum osmolality increased from 295 mmol/L (281, 306) to 315 mmol/L (304, 325) (P < 0.01). Median (range) copeptin increased from 4.3 pg/L (1.1, 21.4) to 28.8 pg/L (19.9, 43.4) (P < 0.01). Median (range) IL-8 levels showed a trend to decrease from 0.79 pg/mL (0.37, 1.6) to 0.7 pg/mL (0.4, 1.9) (P < 0.09) and TNF-α levels decreased from 0.53 pg/mL (0.11, 1.1) to 0.45 pg/mL (0.12, 0.97) (P < 0.036). Contrary to data obtained in vitro, circulating proinflammatory cytokines tend to or decrease in human plasma after osmotic stimulus. In this study, osmotic stimulus does not increase circulating markers of systemic inflammation.

Open access

Milena Kloter, Claudia Gregoriano, Ellen Haag, Alexander Kutz, Beat Mueller, and Philipp Schuetz


Systemic infections and sepsis lead to strong activation of the vasopressin system, which is pivotal for stimulation of the endocrine stress response and, in addition, has vasoconstrictive and immunomodulatory effects. Our aim was to assess the significance of the vasopressor system through measurement of C-terminal proAVP (copeptin) regarding mortality prediction in a large prospective cohort of patients with systemic infection.

Design and methods

This secondary analysis of the observational cohort TRIAGE study included consecutive, adult, medical patients with an initial diagnosis of infection seeking emergency department care. We used multivariable regression analysis to assess associations of copeptin levels in addition to the Sequential Organ Failure Assessment (SOFA) score with 30-day mortality. Discrimination was assessed by calculation of the area under the curve (AUC).


Overall, 45 of 609 (7.4%) patients with infection died within 30 days. Non-survivors had a marked upregulation of the vasopressin system with a more than four-fold increase in admission copeptin levels compared to non-survivors (199.9 ± 204.7 vs 46.6 ± 77.2 pmol/L). In a statistical model, copeptin was significantly associated with mortality (adjusted odds ratio of 1.04, 95% CI 1.01 to 1.07, P = 0.002). Regarding discrimination, copeptin alone showed an AUC of 0.82, while adding copeptin to the SOFA score significantly improved its prognostic ability (AUC 0.83 vs 0.86, P = 0.027).


Activation of the vasopressin system mirrored by an increase in copeptin levels provided significant information regarding mortality risk and improved the SOFA score for prediction of sepsis mortality.

Open access

S U Jayasinghe, S J Torres, C A Nowson, A J Tilbrook, and A I Turner

We tested the hypothesis that overweight/obese men aged 50–70 years will have a greater salivary cortisol, salivary alpha amylase and heart rate (HR) responses to psychological stress compared with age matched lean men. Lean (BMI=20–25 kg/m2; n=19) and overweight/obese (BMI=27–35 kg/m2; n=17) men (50–70 years) were subjected to a well-characterised psychological stress (Trier Social Stress Test, TSST) at 1500 h. Concentrations of cortisol and alpha amylase were measured in saliva samples collected every 7–15 min from 1400 to 1700 h. HR was recorded using electrocardiogram. Body weight, BMI, percentage body fat, resting systolic and diastolic blood pressure and mean arterial pressure were significantly higher (P<0.05) in overweight/obese men compared with lean men. Both groups responded to the TSST with a substantial elevation in salivary cortisol (372%), salivary alpha amylase (123%) and HR (22%). These responses did not differ significantly between the groups (time×treatment interaction for salivary cortisol, salivary alpha amylase and HR; P=0.187, P=0.288, P=0.550, respectively). There were no significant differences between the groups for pretreatment values, peak height, difference between pretreatment values and peak height (reactivity) or area under the curve for salivary cortisol, salivary alpha amylase or HR (P>0.05 for all). The results showed that, for men with a moderate level of overweight/obesity who were otherwise healthy, the response of salivary cortisol, salivary alpha amylase and HR to acute psychological stress was not impaired.

Open access

Janko Sattler, Jinwen Tu, Shihani Stoner, Jingbao Li, Frank Buttgereit, Markus J Seibel, Hong Zhou, and Mark S Cooper

Patients with chronic immune-mediated arthritis exhibit abnormal hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis activity. The basis for this abnormality is not known. Immune-mediated arthritis is associated with increased extra-adrenal synthesis of active glucocorticoids by the 11β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 1 (11β-HSD1) enzyme. 11β-HSD1 is expressed in the central nervous system, including regions involved in HPA axis regulation. We examined whether altered 11β-HSD1 expression within these regions contributes to HPA axis dysregulation during arthritis. The expression of 11β-HSD1, and other components of glucocorticoid signaling, were examined in various brain regions and the pituitary gland of mice with experimentally induced arthritis. Two arthritis protocols were employed: The K/BxN spontaneous arthritis model for chronic arthritis and the K/BxN serum transfer arthritis model for acute arthritis. 11β-HSD1 mRNA (Hsd11b1) was expressed in the hippocampus, hypothalamus, cortex, cerebellum and pituitary gland. Hypothalamic Hsd11b1 expression did not change in response to arthritis in either model. Pituitary Hsd11b1 expression was however significantly increased in both chronic and acute arthritis models. Hippocampal Hsd11b1 was decreased in acute but not chronic arthritis. Chronic, but not acute, arthritis was associated with a reduction in hypothalamic corticotropin-releasing hormone and arginine vasopressin expression. In both models, serum adrenocorticotropic hormone and corticosterone levels were no different from non-inflammatory controls. These findings demonstrate inflammation-dependent regulation of Hsd11b1 expression in the pituitary gland and hippocampus. The upregulation of 11β-HSD1 expression in the pituitary during both chronic and acute arthritis, and thus, an increase in glucocorticoid negative feedback, could contribute to the abnormalities in HPA axis activity seen in immune-mediated arthritis.

Open access

Andrew R Dismukes, Vanessa J Meyer, Elizabeth A Shirtcliff, Katherine P Theall, Kyle C Esteves, and Stacy S Drury

The current investigation examined the association between the aging-related biomarkers dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and telomere length (TL) in community-recruited African-American youth. The examination of DHEA included stress reactive, basal and diurnal sampling, in order to elucidate the underlying physiological process that may overlap with TL. One hundred and two participants completed the Trier Social Stressor Test for children (TSST-C). TL was obtained from all youth from buccal swabs on the same day as the TSST-C. Saliva samples from 83 participants were obtained over the course of two additional days to measure waking and diurnal levels of DHEA. DHEA diurnal slope was a robust predictor of TL (B=0.516, P<0.05), while other DHEA values were not significantly associated with TL. This study is one of the first studies to examine basal, diurnal and reactivity measurements of DHEA in youth. Furthermore, this is the first study, to our knowledge, to demonstrate a positive association between DHEA, a putative anti-aging hormone, and TL, an indicator of cellular aging.

Open access

Carolina Inda, Natalia G Armando, Paula A dos Santos Claro, and Susana Silberstein

Corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) is a key player of basal and stress-activated responses in the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis (HPA) and in extrahypothalamic circuits, where it functions as a neuromodulator to orchestrate humoral and behavioral adaptive responses to stress. This review describes molecular components and cellular mechanisms involved in CRH signaling downstream of its G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) CRHR1 and CRHR2 and summarizes recent findings that challenge the classical view of GPCR signaling and impact on our understanding of CRHRs function. Special emphasis is placed on recent studies of CRH signaling that revealed new mechanistic aspects of cAMP generation and ERK1/2 activation in physiologically relevant contexts of the neurohormone action. In addition, we present an overview of the pathophysiological role of the CRH system, which highlights the need for a precise definition of CRHRs signaling at molecular level to identify novel targets for pharmacological intervention in neuroendocrine tissues and specific brain areas involved in CRH-related disorders.

Open access

Carlo Cinque, Manuela Zinni, Anna Rita Zuena, Chiara Giuli, Sebastiano G Alemà, Assia Catalani, Paola Casolini, and Roberto Cozzolino

Knowledge of animals’ hormonal status is important for conservation studies in wild or semi-free-ranging conditions as well as for behavioural and clinical experiments conducted in laboratory research, mostly performed on rats and mice. Faecal sampling is a useful non-invasive method to obtain steroid hormone assessments. Nevertheless, in laboratory studies, unlike other contexts, faecal sampling is less utilised. One of the issues raised is the necessity to collect samples belonging to different animals, separately. Usually, researchers using faecal sampling solve this problem through the isolation of animals or taking the cage rather than single animal as unit of study. These solutions though, could lead to unreliable measurements, and cannot be applied in many studies. Our aim was to show the biological reliability of individual faecal corticosterone metabolite (FCM) assessments in socially housed male and female Wistar rats. We analytically validated the enzyme immunoassay kit used for FCM assessments. Then, we exposed the animals to two different stress stimuli that are known to activate the hypothalamus–pituitary–adrenal axis and the following release of corticosterone to biologically validate the EIA kit: environmental enrichment and predator odour. Individual faecal sampling from social animals was collected through short-time handling. The results demonstrated that both the stimuli increased FCM levels in male and female rats showing the reliability of EIA kit assessment and the applicability of our sampling method. We also found a diurnal rhythm in FCM levels. These results could help to increase the use of faecal hormone metabolite determinations in studies conducted on rats.

Open access

N Bergmann, F Gyntelberg, and J Faber

Chronic psychosocial stress has been proposed as a risk factor for the development of the metabolic syndrome (MES). This review gives a systematic overview of prospective cohort studies investigating chronic psychosocial stress as a risk factor for incident MES and the individual elements of MES. Thirty-nine studies were included. An association between chronic psychosocial stress and the development of MES was generally supported. Regarding the four elements of MES: i) weight gain: the prospective studies supported etiological roles for relationship stress, perceived stress, and distress, while the studies on work-related stress (WS) showed conflicting results; ii) dyslipidemi: too few studies on psychosocial stress as a risk factor for dyslipidemia were available to draw a conclusion; however, a trend toward a positive association was present; iii) type 2 diabetes mellitus (DM2): prospective studies supported perceived stress and distress as risk factors for the development of DM2 among men, but not among women, while WS was generally not supported as a risk factor among neither men nor women; iv) hypertension: marital stress and perceived stress might have an influence on blood pressure (BP), while no association was found regarding distress. Evaluating WS the results were equivocal and indicated that different types of WS affected the BP differently between men and women. In conclusion, a longitudinal association between chronic psychosocial stress and the development of MES seems present. However, the number of studies with sufficient quality is limited and the design of the studies is substantially heterogeneous.

Open access

Bo Zhu, Yumei Chen, Fang Xu, Xiaolu Shen, Xuanyu Chen, Jieqiang Lv, and Songying Zhang


Androgens excess results in endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress, which is an important cause of β cells dysfunction. Here, we investigated the molecular regulation of androgens excess, ER stress, and β-cell function in polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).


PCOS mouse model was established by injection of DHEA. Primary cultured mouse islets were used to detect testosterone (TE)-induced ER stress. The response of ER stress, apoptosis, and hyperinsulinemia were analyzed in INS-1 cells with or without TE exposure. Androgen receptor (AR) antagonist and ER stress inhibitor treatment was performed to evaluate the role of TE in ER stress and proinsulin secretion of PCOS mice.


PCOS mice had higher ER stress in islets. TE exposure induced ER stress and apoptosis significantly through sustaining insulin overexpression in β cells, which in turn impaired proinsulin maturation and secretion. Blocking this process could significantly relieve ER stress and apoptosis and improve insulin homeostasis.


ER stress activated by androgens excess in PCOS contributes to β cell dysfunction and hyperinsulinemia.