Activation of the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is a basic reaction of animals to environmental perturbations that threaten homeostasis. These responses are ultimately regulated by neurons residing within the paraventricular nucleus (PVN) of the hypothal- amus. Within the PVN, corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH), vasopressin (AVP), and oxytocin (OT) expressing neurons are critical as they can regulate both neuroendocrine and autonomic responses. Estradiol (E2) and testosterone (T) are well known reproductive hormones; however, they have also been shown to modulate stress reactivity. In rodent models, evidence shows that under some conditions E2 enhances stress activated adreno- corticotropic hormone (ACTH) and corticosterone secretion. In contrast, T decreases the gain of the HPA axis. The modulatory role of testosterone was originally thought to be via 5 alpha reduction to the potent androgen dihydrotestosterone (DHT) and its subsequent binding to the androgen receptor, whereas E2 effects were thought to be mediated by estrogen receptors alpha (ERalpha) and beta (ERbeta). However, DHT has been shown to be metabolized to the ERbeta agonist, 5α- androstane 3β,17β Diol (3β-Diol). The actions of 3β-Diol on the HPA axis are mediated by ERbeta which inhibits the PVN response to stressors. In gonadectomized rats, ERbeta agonists reduce CORT and ACTH responses to restraint stress, an effect that is also present in wild-type but not ERbeta-knockout mice. The neurobiological mechanisms underlying the ability of ERbeta to alter HPA reactivity are not currently known. CRH, AVP, and OT have all been shown to be regulated by estradiol and recent studies indicate an important role of ERbeta in these regulatory processes. Moreover, activation of the CRH and AVP promoters has been shown to occur by 3β-Diol binding to ERbeta and this is thought to occur through alternate pathways of gene regula- tion. Based on available data, a novel and important role of 3β-Diol in the regulation of the HPA axis is suggested.
- Corticotropin releasing hormone
- Estrogen receptor beta
- Paraventricular nucleus