Metyrapone, a 11-β steroid hydroxylase inhibitor that blocks stress-induced glucocorticoid release, is extensively used to study the physiological and behavioural roles of glucocorticoids. However, there is circumstancial evidence suggesting that metyrapone could act as a pharmacological stressor. Thus, the effects of various doses of metyrapone on two well-characterized stress markers (ACTH and glucose) were studied in male rats. Metyrapone administration, while exerting a modest effect on plasma corticosterone levels, dose-dependently increased plasma ACTH and glucose levels. Using the highest doses previously tested (200 mg/kg) we further observed, as evaluated by fos-like immunoreactivity (FLI), a strong activation of a wide range of brain areas, including the parvocellular region of the hypothalamic paraventricular nucleus (PVNp), the origin of the main ACTH secretagogues. Metyrapone-induced FLI was observed in neocortical and allocortical areas, in several limbic, thalamic and hypothalamic nuclei and, to a lesser extent, in the brainstem. In a final experiment, a dose-response study of metyrapone-induced FLI was carried out focusing on selected brain areas. The study revealed that the paraventricular thalamic nucleus and central amygdala were the areas most sensitive to metyrapone as they responded even to the lowest dose of the drug. Most areas, among them the PVNp, only showed enhanced FLI with the two highest doses, i.e. when it was associated with ACTH and glucose responses. These data suggest that some of the effects of metyrapone could be due to its stressful properties rather than its ability to inhibit glucocorticoid synthesis. The exact mechanisms involved remain to be established.
- Central amygdala
- Paraventricular hypothalamic nucleus
- Paraventricular thalamic nucleus