Exposure to stress induces profound physiological and behavioral changes in the organisms and some of these changes may be important regarding stressinduced pathologies and animal models of psychiatric diseases. Consequences of stress are dependent on the duration of exposure to stressors (acute, chronic), but also of certain characteristics such as intensity, controllability, and predictability. If some biological variables were able to reflect these characteristics, they could be used to predict negative consequences of stress. Among the myriad of physiological changes caused by stress, only a restricted number of variables appears to reflect the intensity of the situation, mainly plasma levels of ACTH and adrenaline. Peripheral hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) hormones (ACTH and corticosterone) are also able to reflect fear conditioning. In contrast, the activation of the HPA axis is not consistently related to anxiety as evaluated by classical tests such as the elevated plus-maze. Similarly, there is no consistent evidence about the sensitivity of the HPA axis to psychological variables such as controllability and predictability, despite the fact that: (a) lack of control over aversive stimuli can induce behavioral alterations not seen in animals which exert control, and (b) animals showed clear preference for predictable versus unpredictable stressful situations. New studies are needed to re-evaluate the relationship between the HPA axis and psychological stress characteristics using ACTH instead of corticosterone and taking advantages of our current knowledge about the regulation of this important stress system. © Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012.
- Biological markers
- Fear conditioning
- Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis
- Stress intensity