Anterior pituitary response to stress: Time-related changes and adaptation

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    A wide array of physical and psychological stressors alter the secretion of anterior pituitary hormones. However, both the qualitative and the quantitative features of the stressors as well as its duration markedly influence the final endocrine response. In addition, among all anterior pituitary hormones, only ACTH and prolactin levels appear to reflect the intensity of the stress experienced by the animals. Although physical stressors show a somewhat specific neuroendocrine profile, the response of the pituitary-adrenal (PA) and sympathomedulloadrenal axes are common to almost all stressors. After an initial stimulatory effect of stress, an inhibition of all anterior pituitary hormones, except ACTH, can be found provided the stressor is intense enough. The mechanisms responsible for this biphasic response to stress are likely to be located at sites above the pituitary. When the animals are repeatedly exposed to the same stressor, some behavioural and physiological consequences of stress exposure are reduced, suggesting that the animals become adapted to the stimulus. This process has been also termed habituation. Among all the pituitary hormones, only ACTH and prolactin levels are reduced as a consequence of repeated exposure to the same (homotypic) stressor, although some negative results have been reported. However, it has been recently reported that subtle changes in the characteristics of the stressors or in their regularity can greatly influence adaptation, and these factors might explain failure to find adaptation of ACTH and prolactin in some works. Habituation of ACTH and prolactin, when observed, appears to be specific for the chronically applied stressor so that the potentiality of the PA axis and prolactin to respond to a novel (heterotypic) stressor can be preserved. In the case of the PA axis, an intact or potentiated response to a novel stressor is observed in spite of presumably negative feedback exerted by daily stress-induced glucocorticoid release and the high resting levels of glucocorticoids. This phenomenon has been termed as facilitation and can be unmasked alternating stress. Although with the exception of the PA axis, developmental aspects of anterior pituitary response to stress have been poorly studied, available data suggest that dramatic changes occur in some hormones during weaning, with some, but less profound, changes thereafter. Responsiveness to stressors appears to mature with age, but developmental patterns differ among the various anterior pituitary hormones.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)241-260
    JournalInternational Journal of Developmental Neuroscience
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 1998


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