Jamie J Walker

University of Exeter, Exeter, England, United Kingdom

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Publications (8)39.98 Total impact

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    ABSTRACT: A pulsatile pattern of secretion is a characteristic of many hormonal systems, including the glucocorticoid-producing hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. Despite recent evidences supporting its importance for behavioral, neuroendocrine and transcriptional effects of glucocorticoids, there has been a paucity of information regarding the origin of glucocorticoid pulsatility. In this review we discuss how CORT pulsatility is generated, what are the mechanisms regulating the dynamics of the HPA axis, and how these dynamics become disrupted in disease. Our recent mathematical, experimental and clinical studies show that glucocorticoid pulsatility is generated and maintained by dynamic processes at the level of the pituitary-adrenal axis, and that an intra-adrenal negative feedback may contribute to these dynamics. We also describe how these dynamics may become disrupted in conditions of disease and critical illness.
    Preview · Article · Jul 2015 · Journal of Endocrinology
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    ABSTRACT: To characterize the dynamics of the pituitary-adrenal interaction during the course of coronary artery bypass grafting both on and off pump. Since our data pointed to a major change in adrenal responsiveness to adrenocorticotropic hormone, we used a reverse translation approach to investigate the molecular mechanisms underlying this change in a rat model of critical illness. Clinical studies: Prospective observational study. Animal studies: Controlled experimental study. Clinical studies: Cardiac surgery operating rooms and critical care units. Animal studies: University research laboratory. Clinical studies: Twenty, male patients. Animal studies: Adult, male Sprague-Dawley rats. Clinical studies: Coronary artery bypass graft-both on and off pump. Animal studies: Injection of either lipopolysaccharide or saline (controls) via a jugular vein cannula. Clinical studies: Blood samples were taken for 24 hours from placement of the first venous access. Cortisol and adrenocorticotropic hormone were measured every 10 and 60 minutes, respectively, and corticosteroid-binding globulin was measured at the beginning and end of the 24-hour period and at the end of operation. There was an initial rise in both levels of adrenocorticotropic hormone and cortisol to supranormal values at around the end of surgery. Adrenocorticotropic hormone levels then returned toward preoperative values. Ultradian pulsatility of both adrenocorticotropic hormone and cortisol was maintained throughout the perioperative period in all individuals. The sensitivity of the adrenal gland to adrenocorticotropic hormone increased markedly at around 8 hours after surgery maintaining very high levels of cortisol in the face of "basal" levels of adrenocorticotropic hormone. This sensitivity began to return toward preoperative values at the end of the 24-hour sampling period. Animal studies: Adult, male Sprague-Dawley rats were given either lipopolysaccharide or sterile saline via a jugular vein cannula. Hourly blood samples were subsequently collected for adrenocorticotropic hormone and corticosterone measurement. Rats were killed 6 hours after the injection, and the adrenal glands were collected for measurement of steroidogenic acute regulatory protein, steroidogenic factor 1, and dosage-sensitive sex reversal, adrenal hypoplasia critical region, on chromosome X, gene 1 messenger RNAs and protein using real-time quantitative polymerase chain reaction and Western immunoblotting, respectively. Adrenal levels of the adrenocorticotropic hormone receptor (melanocortin type 2 receptor) messenger RNA and its accessory protein (melanocortin type 2 receptor accessory protein) were also measured by real-time quantitative polymerase chain reaction. In response to lipopolysaccharide, rats showed a pattern of adrenocorticotropic hormone and corticosterone that was similar to patients undergoing coronary artery bypass grafting. We were also able to demonstrate increased intra-adrenal corticosterone levels and an increase in steroidogenic acute regulatory protein, steroidogenic factor 1, and melanocortin type 2 receptor accessory protein messenger RNAs and steroidogenic acute regulatory protein, and a reduction in dosage-sensitive sex reversal, adrenal hypoplasia critical region, on chromosome X, gene 1 and melanocortin type 2 receptor messenger RNAs, 6 hours after lipopolysaccharide injection. Severe inflammatory stimuli activate the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis resulting in increased steroidogenic activity in the adrenal cortex and an elevation of cortisol levels in the blood. Following coronary artery bypass grafting, there is a massive increase in both adrenocorticotropic hormone and cortisol secretion. Despite a subsequent fall of adrenocorticotropic hormone to basal levels, cortisol remains elevated and coordinated adrenocorticotropic hormone-cortisol pulsatility is maintained. This suggested that there is an increase in adrenal sensitivity to adrenocorticotropic hormone, which we confirmed in our animal model of immune activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. Using this model, we were able to show that this increased adrenal sensitivity results from changes in the regulation of both stimulatory and inhibitory intra-adrenal signaling pathways. Increased understanding of the dynamics of normal hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal responses to major surgery will provide us with a more rational approach to glucocorticoid therapy in critically ill patients.
    Full-text · Article · Dec 2014 · Critical Care Medicine
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    ABSTRACT: The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis regulates circulating levels of glucocorticoid hormones, and is the major neuroendocrine system in mammals that provides a rapid response and defense against stress. Under basal (i.e., unstressed) conditions, glucocorticoids are released with a pronounced circadian rhythm, characterized by peak levels of glucocorticoids during the active phase, that is daytime in humans and nighttime in nocturnal animals such as mice and rats. When studied in more detail, it becomes clear that the circadian rhythm of the HPA axis is characterized by a pulsatile release of glucocorticoids from the adrenal gland that results in rapid ultradian oscillations of hormone levels both in the blood and within target tissues, including the brain. In this review, we discuss the regulation of these circadian and ultradian HPA rhythms, how these rhythms change in health and disease, and how they affect the physiology and behavior of the organism. © 2014 American Physiological Society. Compr Physiol 4:1273-1298, 2014.
    No preview · Article · Jul 2014 · Comprehensive Physiology
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    ABSTRACT: The circadian rhythm of corticosterone (CORT) secretion from the adrenal cortex is regulated by the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), which is entrained to the light-dark cycle. Since the circadian CORT rhythm is associated with circadian expression of the steroidogenic acute regulatory (StAR) protein, we investigated the 24 h pattern of hormonal secretion (ACTH and CORT), steroidogenic gene expression (StAR, SF-1, DAX1 and Nurr77) and the expression of genes involved in ACTH signalling (MC2R and MRAP) in rats entrained to a normal light-dark cycle. We found that circadian changes in ACTH and CORT were associated with the circadian expression of all gene targets; with SF-1, Nurr77 and MRAP peaking in the evening, and DAX1 and MC2R peaking in the morning. Since disruption of normal SCN activity by exposure to constant light abolishes the circadian rhythm of CORT in the rat, we also investigated whether the AM-PM variation of our target genes was also disrupted in rats exposed to constant light conditions for 5 weeks. We found that the disruption of the AM-PM variation of ACTH and CORT secretion in rats exposed to constant light was accompanied by a loss of AM-PM variation in StAR, SF-1 and DAX1, and a reversed AM-PM variation in Nurr77, MC2R and MRAP. Our data suggest that circadian expression of StAR is regulated by the circadian expression of nuclear receptors and proteins involved in both ACTH signalling and StAR transcription. We propose that ACTH regulates the secretion of CORT via the circadian control of steroidogenic gene pathways that become dysregulated under the influence of constant light.
    No preview · Article · Nov 2012 · Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology
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    ABSTRACT: Plasma levels of corticosterone exhibit both circadian and ultradian rhythms. The circadian component of these rhythms is regulated by the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). Our studies investigate the importance of the SCN in regulating ultradian rhythmicity. Two approaches were used to dissociate the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis from normal circadian input in rats: (i) exposure to a constant light (LL) environment and (ii) electrolytic lesioning of the SCN. Blood was sampled using an automated sampling system. As expected, both treatments resulted in a loss of the circadian pattern of corticosterone secretion. Ultradian pulsatile secretion of corticosterone however, was maintained across the 24 h in all animals. Furthermore, the loss of SCN input revealed an underlying relationship between locomotor and HPA activity. In control (LD) rats there was no clear correlation between ultradian locomotor activity and hormone secretion, whereas, in LL rats, episodes of ultradian activity were consistently followed by periods of increased pulsatile hormone secretion. These data clearly demonstrate that the ultradian rhythm of corticosterone secretion is generated through a mechanism independent of the SCN input, supporting recent evidence for a sub-hypothalamic pulse generator.
    No preview · Article · Jul 2012 · European Journal of Neuroscience
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    ABSTRACT: Author Summary Glucocorticoid steroid hormones, such as cortisol and corticosterone, provide a rapid response to both physical and psychological stress, and act on areas of the brain that influence learning, memory, and behaviour. Glucocorticoids are released from the adrenal glands in near-hourly pulses, which results in oscillating glucocorticoid levels in the blood and in target organs. These hormone oscillations can become disrupted during ageing and in stress-related disease (e.g., major depression), so it is important to identify the underlying mechanisms that govern their dynamics. Although the origin of the oscillations is not known, it is assumed that they are generated by a neuronal “pulse generator” within the brain. In this study, we present data that challenge this hypothesis. We characterize a peripheral hormonal system and show that constant levels of corticotrophin-releasing hormone can induce and regulate hormone oscillations independent of the brain. We also describe mechanisms that can disrupt these oscillations. These findings have important implications for our understanding of glucocorticoid signalling in both health and disease, and will be important for the design of novel treatment strategies that take into account timing of hormone administration to patients undergoing steroid therapy for inflammatory or malignant disease.
    Full-text · Article · Jun 2012 · PLoS Biology
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    ABSTRACT: The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is a dynamic oscillatory hormone signalling system that regulates the pulsatile secretion of glucocorticoids from the adrenal glands. In addition to regulation of basal levels of glucocorticoids, the HPA axis provides a rapid hormonal response to stress that is vitally important for homeostasis. Recently it has become clear that glucocorticoid pulses encode an important biological signal that regulates receptor signalling both in the central nervous system and in peripheral tissues. It is therefore important to understand how stressful stimuli disrupt the pulsatile dynamics of this system. Using a computational model that incorporates the crucial feed-forward and feedback components of the axis, we provide novel insight into experimental observations that the size of the stress-induced hormonal response is critically dependent on the timing of the stress. Further, we employ the theory of Phase Response Curves to show that an acute stressor acts as a phase-resetting mechanism for the ultradian rhythm of glucocorticoid secretion. Using our model, we demonstrate that the magnitude of an acute stress is a critical factor in determining whether the system resets via a Type 1 or Type 0 mechanism. By fitting our model to our in vivo stress-response data, we show that the glucocorticoid response to an acute noise stress in rats is governed by a Type 0 phase-resetting curve. Our results provide additional evidence for the concept of a deterministic sub-hypothalamic oscillator regulating the ultradian glucocorticoid rhythm, which constitutes a highly responsive peripheral hormone system that interacts dynamically with hypothalamic inputs to regulate the overall hormonal response to stress.
    Full-text · Article · Feb 2012 · PLoS ONE
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    Jamie J Walker · John R Terry · Stafford L Lightman
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    ABSTRACT: The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is a neuroendocrine system that regulates the circulating levels of vital glucocorticoid hormones. The activity of the HPA axis is characterized not only by a classic circadian rhythm, but also by an ultradian pattern of discrete pulsatile release of glucocorticoids. A number of psychiatric and metabolic diseases are associated with changes in glucocorticoid pulsatility, and it is now clear that glucocorticoid responsive genes respond to these rapid fluctuations in a biologically meaningful way. Theoretical modelling has enabled us to identify and explore potential mechanisms underlying the ultradian activity in this axis, which to date have not been identified successfully. We demonstrate that the combination of delay with feed-forward and feedback loops in the pituitary-adrenal system is sufficient to give rise to ultradian pulsatility in the absence of an ultradian source from a supra-pituitary site. Moreover, our model enables us to predict the different patterns of glucocorticoid release mediated by changes in hypophysial-portal corticotrophin-releasing hormone levels, with results that parallel our experimental in vivo data.
    Full-text · Article · Jun 2010 · Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences

Publication Stats

200 Citations
39.98 Total Impact Points


  • 2014
    • University of Exeter
      Exeter, England, United Kingdom
  • 2010-2014
    • University of Bristol
      • • The Henry Wellcome Laboratories for Integrative Neuroscience and Endocrinology
      • • Department of Engineering Mathematics
      Bristol, England, United Kingdom