Stress-induced sensitization: The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and beyond

Xavier Belda, Silvia Fuentes, Nuria Daviu, Roser Nadal, Antonio Armario

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

66 Citations (Scopus)


© 2015 Taylor and Francis. Exposure to certain acute and chronic stressors results in an immediate behavioral and physiological response to the situation followed by a period of days when cross-sensitization to further novel stressors is observed. Cross-sensitization affects to different behavioral and physiological systems, more particularly to the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. It appears that the nature of the initial (triggering) stressor plays a major role, HPA cross-sensitization being more widely observed with systemic or high-intensity emotional stressors. Less important appears to be the nature of the novel (challenging) stressor, although HPA cross-sensitization is better observed with short duration (5-15 min) challenging stressors. In some studies with acute immune stressors, HPA sensitization appears to develop over time (incubation), but most results indicate a strong initial sensitization that progressively declines over the days. Sensitization can affect other physiological system (i.e. plasma catecholamines, brain monoamines), but it is not a general phenomenon. When studied concurrently, behavioral sensitization appears to persist longer than that of the HPA axis, a finding of interest regarding long-term consequences of traumatic stress. In many cases, behavioral and physiological consequences of prior stress can only be observed following imposition of a new stressor, suggesting long-term latent effects of the initial exposure.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)269-279
Publication statusPublished - 4 May 2015


  • ACTH
  • PTSD
  • catecholamines
  • corticosterone
  • electric shock
  • immobilization
  • immune stressors
  • prolactin


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