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Endogenous opioids: opposing stress with a cost.

The stress response is characterized by the coordinated engagement of central and peripheral neural systems in response to life-threatening challenges. It has been conserved through evolution and is essential for survival. However, the frequent or continual elicitation of the stress response by repeated or chronic stress, respectively, results in the dysfunction of stress response circuits, ultimately leading to stress-related pathology. In an effort to best respond to stressors, yet at the same time maintain homeostasis and avoid dysfunction, stress response systems are finely balanced and co-regulated by neuromodulators that exert opposing effects. These opposing systems serve to restrain certain stress response systems and promote recovery. However, the engagement of opposing systems comes with the cost of alternate dysfunctions. This review describes, as an example of this dynamic, how endogenous opioids function to oppose the effects of the major stress neuromediator, corticotropin-releasing hormone, and promote recovery from a stress response and how these actions can both protect and be hazardous to health.

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