Age-related changes in the dog hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical system: neuroendocrine activity and corticosteroid receptors

J M Reul, J Rothuizen, E R de Kloet
Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology 1991, 40 (1): 63-9
Aging is associated with a progressive dysfunctioning of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) axis. We have studied the response of the HPA axis to stress and a hormonal (ovine corticotropin releasing factor (o-CRF) challenge in young (1.5-2 years) and aged (greater than 11 years) dogs. Compared to the young dogs, the aged animals displayed an increased basal concentration of both ACTH and cortisol. In addition, in response to an o-CRF challenge (1 microgram/kg i.v.) or an electric footshock (1 mA, alternatively on/off for 2 s) or immobilization (45 min) stress, the aged dogs showed significantly larger increments in ACTH and cortisol. Following the challenge test, the young and aged dogs reached their respective basal hormone levels at the same time, except for the o-CRF test. In the latter case, in contrast to the young controls, the aged dogs still showed an increased plasma cortisol level compared to the pre-challenge basal hormone concentration. Concerning the effect of aging on the brain and hypophyseal corticosteroid receptors, a selective decline (minus 50-75%) in mineralocorticoid receptor (MR) was observed in all measured brain regions (dorsal and ventral hippocampus, septum, hypothalamus) and anterior pituitary, whereas no change was found in brain glucocorticoid receptor (GR) number. The GR level in the anterior pituitary was even increased by 70%. In light of the role that MR and GR seem to play in the regulation of the HPA axis, it is concluded that the diminished MR number in the aged dog brain may underly the increased basal hormone levels and the elevated responsiveness of the HPA axis in these animals. The observation that the stress-induced elevations of cortisol and ACTH were not prolonged at senescence suggests that the GR-mediated negative feedback action of glucocorticoids is not altered, which is in line with the unchanged brain GR numbers in the aged dogs.

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