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Stress and disorders of the stress system


Abstract and Figures

All organisms must maintain a complex dynamic equilibrium, or homeostasis, which is constantly challenged by internal or external adverse forces termed stressors. Stress occurs when homeostasis is threatened or perceived to be so; homeostasis is re-established by various physiological and behavioral adaptive responses. Neuroendocrine hormones have major roles in the regulation of both basal homeostasis and responses to threats, and are involved in the pathogenesis of diseases characterized by dyshomeostasis or cacostasis. The stress response is mediated by the stress system, partly located in the central nervous system and partly in peripheral organs. The central, greatly interconnected effectors of this system include the hypothalamic hormones arginine vasopressin, corticotropin-releasing hormone and pro-opiomelanocortin-derived peptides, and the locus ceruleus and autonomic norepinephrine centers in the brainstem. Targets of these effectors include the executive and/or cognitive, reward and fear systems, the wake-sleep centers of the brain, the growth, reproductive and thyroid hormone axes, and the gastrointestinal, cardiorespiratory, metabolic, and immune systems. Optimal basal activity and responsiveness of the stress system is essential for a sense of well-being, successful performance of tasks, and appropriate social interactions. By contrast, excessive or inadequate basal activity and responsiveness of this system might impair development, growth and body composition, and lead to a host of behavioral and somatic pathological conditions.
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JULY 2009
voLUme 5
Aghia Sophia Children’s
Hospital, University of
Athens, Athens,
First Department of
Pediatrics, Aghia
Sophia Children’s
Hospital, University of
Athens, Thivon and
Mikras Asias Streets,
Athens 11527, Greece
Stress and disorders of the stress system
George P. Chrousos
Abstract | All organisms must maintain a complex dynamic equilibrium, or homeostasis, which is constantly
challenged by internal or external adverse forces termed stressors. Stress occurs when homeostasis is
threatened or perceived to be so; homeostasis is re-established by various physiological and behavioral
adaptive responses. Neuroendocrine hormones have major roles in the regulation of both basal homeostasis
and responses to threats, and are involved in the pathogenesis of diseases characterized by dyshomeostasis
or cacostasis. The stress response is mediated by the stress system, partly located in the central nervous
system and partly in peripheral organs. The central, greatly interconnected effectors of this system include
the hypothalamic hormones arginine vasopressin, corticotropin-releasing hormone and pro-opiomelanocortin-
derived peptides, and the locus ceruleus and autonomic norepinephrine centers in the brainstem. Targets of
these effectors include the executive and/or cognitive, reward and fear systems, the wake–sleep centers of the
brain, the growth, reproductive and thyroid hormone axes, and the gastrointestinal, cardiorespiratory, metabolic,
and immune systems. Optimal basal activity and responsiveness of the stress system is essential for a sense
of well-being, successful performance of tasks, and appropriate social interactions. By contrast, excessive
or inadequate basal activity and responsiveness of this system might impair development, growth and body
composition, and lead to a host of behavioral and somatic pathological conditions.
Chrousos, G. P. Nat. Rev. Endocrinol. 5, 374–381 (2009); published online 2 June 2009; doi:10.1038/nrendo.2009.106
“Hypothalamic hypophysiotropic factors” were originally
proposed by G. W. Harris in the 1940s; since then, a sub-
stantial body of evidence has confirmed that these factors
do indeed exist.1–3 The survival of complex organisms—
at both the individual and species levels—relies on these
factors, which include mediators that regulate homeo-
stasis and influence behavior, energy metabolism, growth,
reproduction and immunity. This Review provides a brief,
albeit comprehensive, synthesis of information on the
concep tual evolution, techno logical advances and current
under standing of homeostasis and stress, and describes the
salutogenic changes or pathogenic disturbances that are
associ ated with eustress or distress, respectively. This article
is divided into three parts: the first discusses the concepts
related to homeo stasis and stress, the second details the
mediators and mechanisms of the stress response, and
the third describes the effects of stress on an organism.
Concepts of homeostasis and stress
All living organisms maintain a complex dynamic equili-
brium, or homeostasis, which is constantly challenged by
internal or external adverse effects, termed stressors.4,5
Thus, stress is defined as a state in which homeostasis
is actually threatened or perceived to be so; homeostasis is
re-established by a complex repertoire of behavioral and
physiological adaptive responses of the organism. The
development of concepts of homeostasis and stress is
summarized in Box 1.
Stressors comprise a long list of potentially adverse
forces, which can be emotional or physical. Both the mag-
nitude and chronicity of stressors are important. When any
stressor exceeds a certain severity or temporal threshold,
the adaptive homeostatic systems of the organism activate
compensatory responses that functionally correspond to
the stressor. The stress system has a major role in coordi-
nation of this process (Box 2).2,3 The stress syndrome is
a relatively stereotypic, innate response that has evolved
to co-ordinate homeostasis and protect the organism
during acute stress. Changes take place in the central
nervous system (CNS) and in various peripheral organs
and tissues. In the CNS, the stress response includes facili-
tation of neural pathways that subserve acute, time-limited
adaptive functions, such as arousal, vigilance and focused
attention, and inhibition of neural pathways that subserve
acutely nonadaptive functions, such as eating, growth and
reproduction. In addition, stress-related changes lead to
increased oxygenation and nutrition of the brain, heart
and skeletal muscles, which are all organs crucial to the
central coordination of the stress response and the ‘fight
or flight’ reaction.
Homeostatic mechanisms, including the stress system,
exert their effects in an inverted U-shaped dose–response
curve (Figure 1). Basal, healthy homeostasis (or eu stasis)
is achieved in the central, optimal range of the curve. Sub-
optimal effects may occur on either side of the curve and
can lead to insufficient adaptation, a state that has been
called allostasis (different homeo stasis) or, more correct ly,
caco stasis (defective homeostasis, dyshomeostasis ,
distress), which might be harmful for the organism in
Competing interests
The author declares no competing interests.
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the short term and/or long term.2,3 Both hypo function
and hyperfunction of the homeostatic systems of the
organism have multiple adverse effects. For instance,
both defective and excessive reactions to fear entail a
decreased ability to survive of the individual and the
species. Thus, both fearless, uninhibited individuals and
fearful, excessively inhibited individuals have increased
risks of morbidity and mortality, the former as a result of
underestimating danger, the latter as a result of decreased
social integration.
The interaction between homeostasis-disturbing
stressors and stressor-activated adaptive responses of
the organ ism can have three potential outcomes. First, the
match may be perfect and the organism returns to its
basal homeostasis or eustasis; second, the adaptive
response may be inappropriate (for example, inadequate,
exces sive and/or prolonged) and the organism falls into
caco stasis; and, third, the match may be perfect and the
organ ism gains from the experience and a new, improved
ho meostatic capacity is attained, for which I propose the
term ‘hyperstasis.
Mediators of homeostasis and stress
Stress mediators, which include the classic neuro-
endocrine hormones of the stress system, but also
several other neuro transmitters, cytokines and growth
factors, regulate both basal and threatened homeostasis
and might mediate the pathogenesis of dyshomeostasis-
related diseases.2,6–8 Pivotal to our understanding of these
mediators and their effects on the human organism in
health and disease has been the above-mentioned concept
of hypothalamic hypophysiotropic factors.
Central and peripheral effectors
The principal, greatly interconnected CNS effectors of the
stress system, include the hypothalamic hormones argi-
nine vasopressin (AVP), corticotropin-releasing hormone
(CRH), the pro-opiomelanocortin-derived peptides
α-melanocyte-stimulating hormone and β-endorphin,
and norepinephrine produced in the A1/A2 centers of the
brainstem’s locus ceruleus and in the central, autonomic
nervous system.2,3 Of note, other ascending aminer gic
pathways, such as the seroto nergic pathways that origi-
nate from the midbrain (nuclei raphe) and the posterior
hypothalamic histaminergic systems, accompany the
locus ceruleus-derived norepinephrine central stress
response through secretion of 5-hydroxytryptamine and
histamine, respectively.
The principal peripheral effectors are glucocorticoids,
which are regulated by the hypothalamic–pituitary–
adrenal axis, and the catecholamines norepinephrine
and epinephrine, which are regulated by the systemic and
adrenomedullary sympathetic nervous systems. Interest-
ingly, postganglionic sympathetic nerve fibers also
secrete CRH, among other substances, whereas both
catecholamines stimulate interleukin (IL-) 6 release by
immune cells and other peripheral cells via β-adrenergic
receptors.8–10 The targets of all these stress mediators
Key points
Stress occurs when homeostasis is threatened or perceived to be so
The stress response is mediated by the stress system, which is located in both
the central nervous system and peripheral organs
The main central effectors of the stress system are highly interconnected, and
include hypothalamic corticotropin-releasing hormone and brainstem-derived
Malfunction of the stress system is associated with behavioral and somatic
Stress is a major contributor to psychosocial and physical pathological conditions
in humans
include the executive and/or cognitive, the fear/anger
and reward systems, the wake–sleep centers of the brain,
the growth, reproductive and thyroid-hormone axes, as
well as the gastrointestinal, cardiorespiratory, metabolic,
and immune systems.
The roles of corticotropin-releasing hormone
Shortly after isolation and sequencing of the 41 amino
acid CRH in the mid-1980s,11 researchers showed that
when this neuropeptide, which does not cross the blood–
brain barrier, was injected into the cerebral ventricles
of experimental animals, it could reproduce the stress
response summarized in Box 2.2,7,12 A series of subsequent
Box 1 | History of stress
The term stress originates from the Indo–European root ‘str’, which has
been historically associated with exertion of pressure. Thus, both the Greek
‘strangalizein’ and its English derivative and synonym ‘to strangle’, as well as
the Latin ‘strigere’ (to tighten), have their origins in the very distant past. The
concept of homeostasis as the general principle of balance or equilibrium of
life was first enunciated clearly by the ancient Greek natural philosophers,
who called it ’harmony’ (Pythagoras) or ’isonomia’ (Alkmaeon).4,75 The modern
synonym ‘homeostasis’, which means steady state, was coined by the American
physiologist Walter Cannon in the beginning of the 20th century, whereas the word
‘stress’ was first used with its current meaning and popularized by the Hungarian
Canadian experimentalist Hans Selye a few decades later. Both Cannon and
Selye employed Hooke’s law of elasticity to heuristically and creatively extrapolate
physical concepts into biology.76–81
Box 2 | Central and peripheral functions of the stress response2
Functions of the central nervous system
Facilitation of arousal, alertness, vigilance, cognition, attention and aggression
Inhibition of vegetative functions (e.g. reproduction, feeding, growth)
Activation of counter-regulatory feedback loops
Peripheral functions
Increase of oxygenation
Nutrition of brain, heart and skeletal muscles
Increase of cardiovascular tone and respiration
Increase of metabolism (catabolism, inhibition of reproduction and growth)
Increase of detoxification of metabolic products and foreign substances
Activation of counter-regulatory feedback loops (includes immunosuppression)
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studies showed that the hypothalamic CRH–AVP and
brainstem norepinephrine centers of the stress system
mutually innervate and stimulate each other.2,7,12 This
mutually reinforcing positive-feedback system could,
therefore, be activated by CRH, norepinephrine or any
other stimulus that could set into motion either side of
this highly complex, but integrated, brain loop.
The stress system interacts with, influences and is influ-
enced by several systems in the brain that serve cognitive
and/or executive, fear and anger and reward functions;
these systems form a complex, integrated, positive and
negative feedback-system loop.2,7,12–20 Furthermore, the
stress system acutely and in a temporally limited fashion
activates the central nucleus of the amygdala, which has its
own CRH system involved in the generation of fear and/
or anger; in return, the central nucleus of the amygdala
stimu lates the stress system and forms a mutually reinforc-
ing positive-feedback loop.13,14 This system also activates
(acutely and transiently) the mesolimbic, dopaminergic
reward system (which links the ventral tegmental area
to the nucleus accumbens) and the mesocortical, dopa-
minergic system (which links the ventral tegmentum to
the frontal–prefrontal lobe), whereas it receives inhibi-
tory input from the latter.16–19 Finally, the stress system
acutely activates the hippocampus—an organ that has
a major role in intermediate-term memory—whereas it
receives negative input, partly as negative feedback from
the circu lating glucocorticoids of the hypothalamic–
pituitary–adrenal axis to its hypothalamic center, the
paraventricular nucleus, and partly as tonic, hippocampal
inhibitory input upon the stress system.20
Arousal and sleep
Activation of the stress system stimulates arousal and sup-
presses sleep;12 conversely, loss of sleep is associated with
inhibition of the stress system. Interestingly, sleep loss is
also associated with elevated level of circulating IL-6 in
spite of the reduced stimulatory effect of catecholamines
on IL-6 secretion; this change possibly results from the
con currently decreased cortisol-mediated inhibition.21–26
During acute stress, the heart rate and arterial blood pres-
sure are increased, while gluconeogenesis, glycogeno lysis,
lipolysis and hepatic glucose secretion are stimulated,
owing to elevated levels of catecholamines and cortisol
(Box 2).
Growth, reproduction and thyroid function
The growth, reproductive and thyroid-hormone axes are
inhibited at several levels by stress mediators, whereas
estra diol and thyroid hormones stimulate the stress
Gastrointestinal function
During stress, the gastrointestinal system is inhibited
at the level of the stomach via the vagus nerve, while
being stimulated at the level of the large bowel via the
sacral parasympathetic system, which is activated by
brainstem-derived norepinephrine.12,28
The immune system
Stress has complex effects on the immune system and
influences both innate and acquired immunity.6,8,9,29–31
Glucocorticoids and catecholamines influence traf-
ficking and/or function of leukocytes and accessory
immune cells and suppress the secretion of proinflam-
matory cytokines (tumor necrosis factor [TNF], IL-1,
IL-6, IL-8 and IL-12), whereas both hormone families
induce a systemic switch from a TH1 response (that is,
cellular immunity) to a TH2 response (humoral immu-
nity). Conversely, proinflam matory cytokines stimulate
the stress system, also at multiple levels, in both the CNS
and peripheral nervous system, including the hypo-
thalamus, central nor adrenergic system, pituitary and
adrenal glands, which increases gluco corticoid levels
and consequently suppresses the inflammatory reaction.
These actions form another important negative-feedback
loop that protects the organism from overshoot of the
inflammatory response.
Peripheral secretion of ‘authentic’ CRH (originally
described as ‘immune’ CRH because of its inflam matory
actions) by postganglionic sympathetic neurons and
norepinephrine-activated release of IL-6 by periph-
eral immune cells and other cells, respectively, lead to
degranula tion of mast cells (that is, the release of inflam-
matory and vasoactive molecules from their secretory
vesicles) in several tissues and activates the sickness
syndrome.6,8,9,31–33 The former action represents an
important component of the neurogenic inflammatory
response, whereas the sickness syndrome results from
innate processes of the organism that are triggered and
sustained by a systemic, inflammatory reaction. The
syndrome includes somno lence, fatigue, nausea and
depressive mood; these symptoms occur concurrently
with activation of the acute-phase reaction by the liver
(Cacostasis) Eustasis
Deciency Optimum
Homeostatic system activity
Homeostatic effect
Figure 1 | Homeostatic systems exert their effects in an
inverse, U-type dose response.2 Eustasis is in the middle,
optimal range of the curve. Suboptimal effects may be on
either side of the curve and can lead to suboptimal
adaptation, termed allostasis or, more correctly,
cacostasis, which may be harmful for the organism in the
short term or long term.
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and stimulation of the sensory-afferent nervous system,
which manifests as hyperalgesia and fatigue.
Cortisol is a greatly pleiotropic hormone that influ-
ences up to 20% of the expressed human genes and affects
all major homeostatic systems of the body, including
innate and acquired immunity.34–36 Of great interest are
the mutual interactions of the multiple isoforms of the
activated glucocorticoid receptor with several transcrip-
tion factors, such as AP-1, COUP-TF1, NFκB, and the
STATs, through which various brain functions, growth,
immunity and metabolism are regulated in a coordinated
and highly stochastic fashion.34–36
Stress-system disorders
The stress system has a basal circadian activity and also
responds to stressors on demand.2–5 Appropriate basal
activity, as well as quantitatively and temporally tai-
lored responsiveness of the stress system to stressors, is
essential for a sense of well-being, adequate performance
of tasks and positive social interactions. On the other
hand, inappro priate basal activity and/or responsiveness
of the stress system, in terms of both magnitude and
duration, might impair growth, development and body
composition , and might account for many behavioral,
endocrine, metabolic, cardio vascular, autoimmune, and
allergic disorders. The development and severity of these
conditions depend on the genetic, epigenetic and con-
stitutional vulnerability or resilience of the individual to
stress, their exposure to stressors during ‘critical periods’
of development, the presence of concurrent adverse
or protective environmental factors, and the timing,
magnitude and duration of stress.
Prenatal development, infancy, childhood and adoles-
cence are times of increased vulnerability to stressors.
The presence of stressors during these critical periods can
have prolonged effects, such as sustained cacostasis that
can last the entire lifetime of an individual. These effects
are determined constitutionally and/or epi genetically
and are (to a large extent) mediated by stress hormones,
such as CRH and cortisol, that have profound effects
on the brains stress response (Figure 2) .2,37–40 Naturally,
during these same critical periods, individuals are simi-
larly sensitive to propitious environments, which induce
hyperstasis and lead to the development of resistance to
stressors in adulthood.
Acute and chronic stress-related diseases
Through its mediators, stress can lead to acute or chronic
pathological, physical and mental conditions in indivi-
duals with a vulnerable genetic, constitutional and/or
epigenetic background.3–10,20,36 Acute stress may trigger
allergic manifestations, such as asthma, eczema or
urticaria, angiokinetic phenomena, such as migraines,
hypertensive or hypotensive attacks, different types of
pain (such as headaches, abdominal, pelvic and low-back
pain), gastrointestinal symptoms (pain, indigestion, diar-
rhea, constipation), as well as panic attacks and psychotic
episodes. Chronic stress may cause physical, behavioral
and/or neuropsychiatric manifestations: anxiety, depres-
sion, executive and/or cognitive dysfunction; cardio-
vascular phenomena, such as hypertension; metabolic
disorders, such as obesity, the metabolic syndrome, and
type 2 diabetes mellitus; atherosclerotic cardiovascular
disease; neurovascular degenerative disease; osteopenia
and osteoporosis; and sleep disorders, such as insomnia
or excessive daytime sleepiness.
The pathogenesis of acute-stress-induced disorders
can be attributed to increased secretion and effects of
the major stress mediators in the context of a vulner-
able background.2,3,9,30–33 Thus, acute allergic attacks may
be activated by immune-CRH-induced degranulation
of mast cells in the vulnerable organ (for example the
lungs or skin). These reactions cause asthma or eczema,
respectively. Similarly, migraine headaches could be
caused by immune-CRH-induced degranulation of mast
cells in meningeal blood vessels, which causes local vaso-
dilatation and increased permeability of the blood–brain
barrier; panic or psychotic attacks could be triggered by
CRH bursts in the central amygdala that activate a fear
response; hypertensive or hypotensive attacks could
be caused by stress-induced, excessive sympathetic or
parasympathetic system outflow, respectively.
Developmental history
Genetic variation
Stress system
Endothelial dysfunction and/or inammation
Cardiovascular and neurovascular disease
Target tissues
Metabolic syndrome
(insulin resistance, visceral obesity, sarcopenia)
NE Systemic sympathetic
adrenomedullary systems
HPA axis
GH and/or
LH, T, E2
Cortisol NE, E, iCRH, IL-6
Sleep apnea
ovary syndrome
Figure 2 | Chronic stress can lead to development of the metabolic syndrome.35
Abbreviations: ABP, arterial blood pressure; ACTH, adrenocorticotropic hormone;
APR, acute-phase reactants; AVP, arginine vasopressin; CRH, corticotropin-
releasing hormone; iCRH, immune CRH; E, epinephrine; E2, estradiol;
GH, growth hormone; HPA, hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal; IGF-I, insulin-like
growth factor I; IL-6, interleukin 6; LC, locus ceruleus; LH, luteinizing hormone;
NE, norepinephrine; T, testosterone; TG, triglycerides.
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The pathogenesis of chronic-stress-related disorders
can also be explained by sustained, excessive secretion
and effects of the major mediators of stress and sickness
syndromes, which influence the activities of multiple
homeostatic systems.2,3,9,30–36 These disorders thus rep-
resent chronic, maladaptive effects of two physio logical
processes whose mediators are meant to be secreted in a
quantity-limited and time-limited fashion but have gone
awry. The negative consequences of these effects are both
behavioral and somatic.
Behavioral and somatic consequences
The behavioral consequences of chronic stress result
from continuous or intermittent activation of the stress
and sickness syndromes, and prolonged secretion of
their mediators.2,7,8,12,41–47 Thus, CRH, norepinephrine,
cortisol and other hormones activate the fear system,
which produces anxiety, anorexia or hyperphagia; the
same mediators cause tachyphylaxis of the reward
system, which produces depression and cravings for
food, other substances or stress. These mediators also
suppress the sleep system, which causes insomnia, loss
of sleep and daytime somnolence. On the other hand,
IL-6 and other mediators, possibly in synergy with those
mentioned above, generate fatigue, nausea, headaches
and other pains. Executive and cognitive systems also
malfunction as a result of prolonged, chronic activa-
tion of stress and sickness syndromes and people may
perform and plan suboptimally and make and pursue
the wrong decisions. A vicious cycle is initiated and
sustained, in which be havioral maladjustment leads to
psychosocial problems in the family, peer group, school
and/or work, which sustain or cause further mediator
changes and exacerbate behavioral mal adjustment. The
young, developing brain is particularly vulner able, as it
lacks prior useful experiences to which it can resort.
The somatic consequences of continuous or inter-
mittent activation of the stress and sickness syndromes
can be equally devastating (or even worse) than their
behavioral consequences.2,3,7,8,27,31,41–47 In develop-
ing children, growth may be suppressed as a result of
a hypo functioning growth hor mone axis; in adults,
stress-induced hypo gonadism can manifest as loss of
libido and/or hypo fertility, and hyperactivity of the
sympathetic system can lead to essential hypertension.
Chronic hypersecretion of stress mediators, in indivi-
duals with a vulnerable background exposed to a permis-
sive environment, may lead to visceral fat accumu lation
as a result of chronic hypercortisolism, reactive insulin
hyper secretion, low growth-hormone secretion and
hypogonadism (Figure 2).2,3,27,47–52 These same hormonal
changes lead to sarcopenia, osteo penia and/or osteo-
porosis. Visceral obesity and sarco penia are associ ated
with manifestations of the metabolic- syndrome, such
as dyslipidemia (elevated levels of total cholesterol, tri-
glycerides and LDL-cholesterol and decreased level
of HDL-cholesterol), hypertension and carbo hydrate
in tolerance or type 2 diabetes mellitus. Genetically or
constitutionally vulnerable women of reproductive age
may develop polycystic ovary syndrome. Stress-related
IL-6 hypersecretion plus adipose-tissue-generated
inflammatory hypercytokinemia, as well as hyper-
cortisolism, contribute to increased production of
acute-phase reactants and blood hypercoagulation.49–52
Insulin resistance, hypertension, dislipidemia, hyper-
cytokinemia and blood hypercoagulation lead to endo-
thelial dysfunction and consequently atherosclerosis ,
with its cardio vascular and neurovascular sequelae.
Chronic-stress-induced immune dysfunction, pri-
mar ily the T H1 to T H2 switch, increases the vulner ability of
indivi duals to certain infections and autoimmune dis-
orders (Figure 1).6–8,29–31,34 For instance, the immune dys-
function observed in individuals who are chronically
stressed might contribute to the persistence of infection
with Helicobacter pylori, granted that this pathogen
Box 3 | Conditions with altered HPA axis activity2
Increased activity of the HPA axis
Cushing syndrome
Chronic stress
Melancholic depression
Anorexia nervosa
Obsessive–compulsive disorder
Panic disorder
Excessive exercise (obligate athleticism)
Chronic, active alcoholism
Alcohol and narcotic withdrawal
Diabetes mellitus
Central obesity (metabolic syndrome)
Post-traumatic stress disorder in children
Decreased activity of HPA axis
Adrenal insufficiency
Atypical/seasonal depression
Chronic fatigue syndrome
Premenstrual tension syndrome
Climacteric depression
Nicotine withdrawal
Following cessation of glucocorticoid therapy
Following Cushing syndrome cure
Following chronic stress
Postpartum period
Adult post-traumatic stress disorder
Rheumatoid arthritis
Asthma, eczema
Abbreviation: HPA, hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal.
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primarily induces and is defended against through acti-
vation of a cellular immune response. The same is true
for infections with Mycobacterium tuberculosis and the
common cold viruses. Similarly, this switch increases vul-
nerability to TH2-driven autoimmune diseases, such as
Graves disease, systemic lupus erythematosus and some
allergic conditions. Increased vulnerability to certain
neoplasms and their progression might be another effect
of chronic stress, but this issue remains controversial.
Increased levels of CRH and/or stress-system
abnormalities have been reported in behavioral and
neuro psychiatric disorders, such as hypothalamic oligo-
menorrhea and amenorrhea, reduced fertility, obligate
athleticism, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress
disorder in children, eating disorders and chronic, active
alcoholism (Box 3).2,3,27,53–55 On the other hand, over-
production of CRH in the brain and in peripheral tissues,
as well as disruption of the hypothalamic–pituitary–
adrenal axis and the functions of the arousal and sympa-
thetic systems, have been reported in obesity, metabolic
syndrome and essential hypertension. Furthermore, dys-
regulation of the stress-system and autonomic nervous
system is a distinctive feature of common gastrointestinal
disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome and peptic
ulcer disease.56
Consistent with the observation that central or periph-
eral hypersecretion of CRH seems to be involved in a large
number of behavioral and somatic disorders, preclinical
and clinical evidence suggests therapeutic potential for
CRH type 1 receptor antagonists, such as antalarmin, in
the treatment of all or some of these diseases and other
neuropsychiatric and somatic entities.57–62
Abnormal neuroendocrine, autonomic and immune
functions are also present in chronic inflammatory and/
or autoimmune and allergic diseases, in fibromyalgia and
chronic fatigue syndromes; substantial evidence demon-
strates that these abnormalities are related to low CRH
activity (Box 3).2,6–8,29–31,34,63 Similarly, low CRH activity
has been implicated in atypical, seasonal depression,
postpartum ‘baby blues’ and depression, premenstrual
dysphoric disorder and climacteric depression.2,3,27,64–67
In all these disorders, the problem seems to be caco stasis
secondary to inadequate stress-system activity and
responsiveness, which influence the functions of the
homeostatic systems.
Stress in modern societies
We might wonder why modern societies are plagued
by clusters of the so-called multifactorial polygenic dis-
orders: obesity, the metabolic syndrome and type 2 dia-
betes mellitus; hypertension; autoimmunity and allergy;
anxiety, insomnia, and depression; and pain and fatigue
syndromes. All these disorders are associated with dys-
function of the stress system (Table 1). Such dysfunc-
tion, in fact, has a lot to do with the development of
these common and frequently comorbid pathologies.68
In its evolutionary path, the human species experi enced
environ mental stressors, which applied selective pressure
upon its genome. Such selection favored ancestors who
were efficient at conserving energy, combating dehydra-
tion, fighting injurious agents, anticipating adversaries,
minimizing exposure to danger and preventing tissue
strain and damage. In modern societies , lifestyle has
changed dramatically from that of our past. The modern
environment and extension of our life expectancy seem
to permit the expression of these affluence-related ills.
Stress is ubiquitous and universally pervasive;
however, its objective quantification has not been
easy. In modern life, statistics show powerful effects of
stress early in life, concurrent chronic stress, and socio-
economic status on both the morbidity and mortality
of chronic disease.69–74 Similarly, comparisons between
non-Hispanic white people in the US and those in the
UK show that the sociopolitical system has a potent
effect on the burden of chronic disease—an influence
well above and beyond that predicted by socioeconomic
status, which can only be interpreted as an individual,
chronic, stress-driven cacostasis with a deleterious effect
on health.73
Finally, analyses of data obtained in the National
Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys show that,
despite increasing obesity rates, mortality has been
decreasing in the US. This decrease probably reflects
public health improvements and, most likely, chronic
use of pharmacological agents, such as β-blockers ,
angiotensin-converting-enzyme inhibitors and statins,
Table 1 | Adaptive responses to evolutionary stressors and related diseases in modern human societies68
Response to survival threat Selective advantage Contemporary disease
Combat starvation Energy conservation Obesity
Metabolic syndrome
Combat dehydration Fluid and electrolyte conservation Hypertension
Combat injurious agents Potent immune reaction Autoimmunity
Anticipate adversaries Arousal and fear Anxiety
Minimize exposure to danger Social withdrawal Depression
Prevent tissue strain and damage Retain tissue integrity Pain syndromes
Fatigue syndromes
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voLUme 5
which interrupt the pathogenic effects of disturbed
homeostatic mechanisms.74
The stress response, which occurs when homeostasis
is threatened or perceived to be threatened, is medi-
ated by the stress system. Central effectors (including
hypo thalamic hormones, such as AVP, CRH and pro-
opiomelanocortin-derived peptides and brainstem-
derived norepinephrine) and peripheral effectors
(including glucocorticoids, norepinephrine and epi-
nephrine) of this system regulate the brain’s cognitive,
reward and fear systems and wake–sleep centers as well as
the growth, reproductive and thyroid hormone axes, and
influence the gastrointestinal, cardiorespiratory, meta-
bolic, and immune systems. Malfunction of the stress
system might impair growth, development, behavior
and metabolism, which potentially lead to various acute
Review criteria
The author has been working in the general area of stress
for over 30 years. Multiple book sources and articles
in MEDLINE and PubMed were employed. All papers
selected were English-language, full-text papers. We also
searched the reference lists of identified articles for
further primary information. The terms “homeostasis”,
“stress”, “glucocorticoids” and “catecholamines” were
crossreferenced with terms pertaining to homeostatic
functions influenced by stress, such as “arousal”,
“sleep”, “growth”, “reproduction”, “metabolism” and
“immunity”, or to pathological conditions related to
stress, such as “anxiety”, “depression”, “obesity” and
“metabolic syndrome”.
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... 12 Conversely, chronic stress release, cortisol and other hormones results in behavioral alteration that activate fear system which results in development of anxiety. 13 Hypercortisolemia and prolong activation of SNS which further aids insulin resistance which manifest metabolic syndrome such as such as weight gain, visceral adiposity, dyslipidemia, hypertension, overeating and decreased interest in self-care, which can worsen the symptoms of diabetes. 13,14 Persistent stress also produces an increased production of inflammatory cytokines which interconnect with beta-cell resulting in the insulin resistance as seen in DM2. 15 It appears that the DM1 diabetes, anxiety and depression has similar pathophysiological pathway to that of DM2 . ...
... 13 Hypercortisolemia and prolong activation of SNS which further aids insulin resistance which manifest metabolic syndrome such as such as weight gain, visceral adiposity, dyslipidemia, hypertension, overeating and decreased interest in self-care, which can worsen the symptoms of diabetes. 13,14 Persistent stress also produces an increased production of inflammatory cytokines which interconnect with beta-cell resulting in the insulin resistance as seen in DM2. 15 It appears that the DM1 diabetes, anxiety and depression has similar pathophysiological pathway to that of DM2 . The biological link exists between DM1 with depression and anxiety involves; association between autoimmune disease and increase in cytokines production, neurogenesis and neurotransmitter metabolism due to lack of insulin which enhance activity of HPA-axis and chronic hyperglycemia. ...
Full-text available
Background: Diabetes mellitus is one of the most predominant, chronic disease afflicting globally with its amplifying burden. The association of diabetes with psychological disorders exists with depression and anxiety being the most common, often remains undiagnosed or unidentified eventually leading to a decline in functional abilities and self-care, worsening the health profile of the patients and contributing to both morbidity and mortality. This study explores the association of psychiatric problems with diabetes mellitus and their related risk factors. Objectives: To investigate the association and the prevalence of psychiatric disorders (depression and anxiety) among diabetic patients and access their associated risk factors. Methods: A prospective cross-sectional study was conducted for six months in 105 diabetic patients from the outpatient department. Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS) was used to evaluate the symptoms of anxiety and depression. Data were analyzed using Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS) version 25.0. Results: Overall 53(50.5%) were observed with the symptoms of anxiety while 45(42.9%) with symptoms of depression respectively. The prevalence of marked anxiety and depression was observed higher in a female. Anxiety and depression were also common among participants with moderate social support. Anxiety and depression were greater among patient who were illiterate (OR=1.50, 95% CI 0.92-5.38), unemployed (OR=7.50, 95% CI 1.29-43.61) with low income (PR=3.09 95% CI 0.92-10.36) and who were retired (OR=6.00, 95% CI 0.81-44.35).Conclusion: The result showed a high prevalence of depression and anxiety among female than in the male. Most of the patients developed moderate or severe anxiety and depression. Various factors such as low income, age, low education, unemployed, uncontrolled diabetes were associated with anxiety and depression. Awareness programs and health education should be conducted. Counseling and appropriate medication should be initiated to reduce future complications. Key words:
... An additional mechanism that may explain the mediating effects of religiosity on mental health and cellular aging is the ability of the human organism to maintain homeostasis in response to chronic stressors [14]. Neuro-endocrine and behavioral processes are implied in the maintenance of homeostasis [14]. ...
... An additional mechanism that may explain the mediating effects of religiosity on mental health and cellular aging is the ability of the human organism to maintain homeostasis in response to chronic stressors [14]. Neuro-endocrine and behavioral processes are implied in the maintenance of homeostasis [14]. Therefore, on the basis of the SPILI III findings, we could presume that religiosity could represent a mediating factor that reduces inflammation, oxidative stress, and hypercortisolemia. ...
... During lifetime, many extrinsic and intrinsic stressors constantly threaten our complex internal equilibrium called homeostasis [1][2][3]. Therefore, the word stress is used to describe a state in which homeostasis is threatened or perceived to be so [2]. Stressors include different hostile stimuli, such as aggressive behavior, fear, diseases, physical activity, drugs, surgical injury, and environmental and physiological changes [4][5][6][7][8][9]. ...
... Possible risk factors for the development of mental disorders are stressful events in childhood and other chronic stressors that have a great effect on health [1,[114][115][116][117]. One of the most common mental disorders is MDD, which causes depression, weakness, low concentration, physical inactivity and recurrent suicidal thoughts [118]. ...
Full-text available
Stress is a constant threat for homeostasis and is represented by different extrinsic and intrinsic stimuli (stressors, Hans Selye's "noxious agents"), such as aggressive behavior, fear, diseases, physical activity, drugs, surgical injury, and environmental and physiological changes. Our organism responds to stress activating the adaptive stress system to activate compensatory responses for restoring homeostasis. Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) was discovered as a signaling molecule involved in survival, protection, differentiation, and proliferation of sympathetic and peripheral sensory neurons. NGF mediates stress with an important role in translating environmental stimuli into physiological and pathological feedbacks since NGF levels undergo important variations after exposure to stressful events. Psychological stress, lifestyle stress, and oxidative stress are well known to increase the risk of mental disorders such as schizophrenia, major depressive disorders, bipolar disorder, alcohol use disorders and metabolic disorders such as metabolic syndrome. This review reports recent works describing the activity of NGF in mental and metabolic disorders related to stress.
... Although being in a high quality marriage is consistently linked to better health, married people can experience stress that has negative health consequences (Robles et al., 2014). Perceived stress can alter the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and its end product, cortisol (Chrousos, 2009). Cortisol follows a diurnal rhythm, with a healthy diurnal rhythm peaking within an hour of waking and gradually declining across the day. ...
... Given the potent effects spouses have on each other's cortisol, and that individuals' stress perceptions are associated with their own and their partners' health outcomes (Shrout, 2019;Slatcher et al., 2015), it is important to assess how perceived stress relates to cortisol through a dyadic lens. Although individuals' own perceived stress is associated with dysregulated cortisol patterns (Chrousos, 2009;Gunnar and Vazquez, 2001), spouses are interdependent and affect one another (Kelley and Thibaut, 1978;Kiecolt-Glaser and Wilson, 2017). For instance, people with stressed partners might have flatter, less healthy cortisol slopes. ...
Full-text available
Background Perceived stress can lead to dysregulated cortisol patterns, including blunted peaks and flatter slopes, which are associated with increased morbidity and mortality risks. Couples’ interdependence provides a prime opportunity for partners’ stress to disrupt a healthy cortisol pattern. This study examined how individuals’ own perceived stress and their partners’ perceived stress shape cortisol levels and slopes across the day, as well as how positive and negative behaviors during conflict discussions impact associations between stress and cortisol. Methods Both partners of a married couple (n = 43 couples, 86 individuals) completed a full day in-person visit. Each partner completed the Perceived Stress Scale, and all couples engaged in a 20-min marital problem discussion which was recorded and later coded for positive and negative behaviors using the Rapid Marital Interaction Coding System (RMICS). Partners also provided five salivary cortisol samples across the day, two samples before the conflict and three after the conflict. The dyadic design and analyses provided a way to account for the interdependent nature of married couples’ data, as well as to use the Actor-Partner Interdependence Model (APIM) to assess the mutual influence of spouses’ stress on cortisol. Results Individuals with more stressed partners had flatter cortisol slopes than individuals with less stressed partners, who showed steeper and thus healthier declines across the day. Individuals’ cortisol levels at the beginning of the day were similar regardless of their partners’ perceived stress, but individuals with more stressed partners had higher cortisol levels 30-min, 1 hr, and 4 hr after the conflict discussion than those with less stressed partners. Couples’ behavior during the conflict moderated the relationship between partner perceived stress and average cortisol; when couples used more negative and less positive behaviors, individuals with more stressed partners had higher average cortisol levels than those with less stressed partners. Conclusion On a day couples experienced conflict, having a partner with higher perceived stress is associated with dysregulated cortisol patterns, including higher levels and flatter slopes, but having a partner with lower perceived stress is linked to steeper and thus healthier cortisol declines. A partner’s stress was particularly consequential for one’s own cortisol when couples used more negative and fewer positive behaviors during a conflict discussion. This research adds to the growing literature on pathways connecting marital interactions to important biorhythms and health.
... O sistema nervoso central de um organismo é afetado por fatores psicossociais adversos, doenças, estresse, drogas e mudanças ambientais que levam à variações comportamentais, ou seja qualquer desequilíbrio no ciclo de vida do neurotransmissor pode alterar respostas comportamentais que levam a doenças psiquiátricas e outros distúrbios cerebrais (CHROUSOS, 2009;JAT, NAHAR, & JAIN, 2018). Diante disso, avanços no campo da pesquisa neurocomportamental fornecem uma contribuição significativa do zebrafish como uma ferramenta para estudar as alterações neurocomportamentais e sua relação com a resposta fisiopatológica. ...
... Notably, with regard to cortisol and glucocorticoid sensitivity, depending on the outcome measure, (i.e., absence or presence of a particular illness), lower or higher concentrations may favor resilience. For instance, hyperactivity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis has been found in melancholic depression, alcohol use disorder, and eating disorders (Chrousos 2009). In contrast, posttraumatic stress disorder or somatic symptom disorders seem to be associated with diminished HPA activity. ...
... The research studies (1,2,3) have highlighted an important role of stressors in determining, occurring and maintaining thyroid diseases, but there is little information regarding the manner and the mechanism how these events and stressors mediate thyroid diseases. Patients with Graves' disease often report a stressful event before the onset of the disease. ...
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In the present study, we aimed at evaluating the relationship between the cognitive coping strategies of people with thyroid diseases and the level of stress experienced by them. During the present study we evaluated the coping strategies with Cognitive Emotion Regulation Questionnaire, and the level of stress experienced by them with Holmes and Rahe stress scale. All patients attended an endocrinology outpatient clinic between may-august 2019. 42 thyroid patients (31 with hypothyroidism and 11 with hyperthyroidism), aged 33-69 were selected for this study. The coping strategies used predominantly by thyroid patients are: rumination, positive reappraisal, catastrophizing. The rumination and the level of stress experienced correlated positively. 295 *, p = .044, statistically significant (p<0.05). 58.13% of patients presented stressful events in the year prior onset of thyroid pathology. This finding is important because restructuring less proactive coping strategies through psychotherapies can be an effective alternative or adjuvant way of treating thyroid diseases.
Introduction : Les cancers hématologiques sont de survenues brutales et nécessitent des traitements agressifs, notamment de la chimiothérapie intensive et parfois des greffes de cellules souches hématopoïétiques. Les répercussions induites par le cancer et ses traitements sont responsables d’une altération majeure de la qualité de vie, autant qu’une fatigue chronique et des difficultés de réadaptation sociales et professionnelles. Les programmes d’Activité Physique Adaptée (APA) en hématologie ont montré leur efficacité sur l’état physique et la fatigue principalement mais restent peu concluants sur les dimensions psycho-émotionnelles de la qualité de vie. Des recherches récentes en neuro-cardiologie ont par ailleurs montré les bénéfices d’un entraînement à la Cohérence Cardiaque (CC) sur l’équilibre du Système Nerveux Autonome (SNA) et sur l’état psycho-émotionnel. Méthode : Les travaux de recherche entrepris dans cette thèse ont pour objectifs d’évaluer les effets d’une intervention non-médicamenteuse sur la qualité de vie de patients adultes en post-traitement d’une hémopathie maligne. La récupération d’un équilibre physiologique est indexée par la Variabilité de la Fréquence Cardiaque (VFC), reconnue comme une fenêtre d’observation du SNA. Nous présentons quatre études : une étude expérimentale auprès de sujets sains pour mieux comprendre les mécanismes de la VFC lors d’une respiration lente et profonde ; une étude de faisabilité portant sur la mise en œuvre d’un programme APA en hématologie ; puis les résultats préliminaires d’un essai contrôlé randomisé évaluant les effets d’un programme combinant APA et CC sur la VFC, la qualité de vie, la fatigue et l’état anxiodépressif ; et enfin une étude qualitative évaluant le déroulement du programme et les effets des deux interventions. Résultats : Nos résultats montrent d’abord la faisabilité de l’APA et de la CC chez ces patients. Même si les résultats portant sur l’analyse de la VFC sont difficiles à interpréter avec précision, ils tendent à confirmer qu’une intervention en CC entraîne une stimulation du tonus vagal. L’évaluation qualitative nous apporte de nombreux éléments déterminants dans l’adéquation entre les interventions et les besoins singuliers des patients et dans leur efficacité sur l’optimisation d’un retour à une vie active et autonome. Discussion : Ces travaux de recherche apportent par de nouveaux faits expérimentaux, des éléments supplémentaires dans la compréhension des mécanismes de la CC et de ses applications en milieu clinique. D’autres expérimentations sont encore nécessaires pour approfondir nos connaissances dans le cadre d’une approche psychophysiologique en APA et cancer.
With the change of life style, glucolipid metabolic disorders (GLMD) has become one of the major chronic disorders causing public health and clinical problems worldwide. Previous studies on GLMD pay more attention to peripheral tissues. In fact, the central nervous system (CNS) plays an important role in controlling the overall metabolic balance. With the development of technology and the in-depth understanding of the CNS, the relationship between neuro-endocrine-immunoregulatory (NEI) network and metabolism had been gradually illustrated. As the hub of NEI network, hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is important for maintaining the balance of internal environment in the body. The relationship between HPA axis and GLMD needs to be further studied. This review focuses on the role of HPA axis in GLMD and reviews the research progress on drugs for GLMD, with the hope to provide the direction for exploring new drugs to treat GLMD by taking the HPA axis as the target and improve the level of prevention and control of GLMD.
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Physical stressors play a crucial role in the progression of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Here we report a heterogeneous physical stress induced IBS rat model which shows depression and subsequent modulation of IBS by oral treatment of thymol. Oral administration of Thymol reduces the stress induced IBS significantly altering the stress induced gastrointestinal hypermotility, prolonged the whole gut transit time, and increased abdominal withdrawal reflex suggesting gastrointestinal hypermotility and visceral discomfort caused the onset of depression. Immunohistochemical analysis in small intestine and colon of rats shows the decreased 5-HT3AR expression level while thymol treatment normalized the 5-HT3AR expression in the stressed rats. Molecular docking studies showed that thymol competes with endogenous serotonin and an antagonist, Tropisetron and all have similar binding energies to 5-HT3AR. Molecular dynamics simulations revealed that thymol and tropisetron might have similar effects on 5-HT3AR. Our study suggest that thymol improves IBS symptoms through 5-HT3AR, could be useful for the treatment of IBS.
Literature Review
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Corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), CRH-related peptides, and CRH receptors play major roles in coordinating the behavioral, endocrine, autonomic, and immune responses to stress. The wide influence of the CRH system on physiological processes in both brain and periphery implicates the respective peptides in the pathophysiology of numerous disorders characterized by dysregulated stress responses. The potential use of CRH antagonists is presently under intense investigation. Selective antagonists have been used experimentally to elucidate the role of CRH-related peptides in disease processes, such as anxiety and depression, sleep disorders, addictive behavior, inflammatory disorders, acute and chronic neurodegeneration, and preterm labor.
A peptide with high potency and intrinsic activity for stimulating the secretion of corticotropin-like and β -endorphin-like immunoactivities by cultured anterior pituitary cells has been purified from ovine hypothalamic extracts. The primary structure of this 41-residue corticotropin- and β -endorphin-releasing factor has been determined to be: H-Ser-Gln-Glu-Pro-Pro-Ile-Ser-Leu-Asp-Leu-Thr-Phe-His-Leu-Leu-Arg-Glu- Val-Leu-Glu-Met-Thr-Lys-Ala-Asp-Gln-Leu-Ala-Gln-Gln-Ala-His-Ser-Asn-Arg- Lys-Leu-Leu-Asp-Ile-Ala-NH2 The synthetic peptide is active in vitro and in vivo.