Excitatory influence of the locus coeruleus in hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical axis responses to stress

Dana Roderick Ziegler, W. A. Cass, J. P. Herman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

134 Scopus citations


The locus coeruleus (LC) is a key brainstem region involved in arousal and is highly responsive to alerting/stressful stimuli, including those that activate the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) axis. It is currently unclear whether the LC exerts any regulatory influence on the HPA axis and, consequently, on neuroendocrine responses to stress. The present studies were designed to test the hypothesis that the LC promotes HPA axis responses to acute and chronic stress. Adult male rats received bilateral (6-hydroxydopamine) lesions of the LC that produced severe cell loss in the LC and 80% depletion of noradrenaline in medial prefrontal cortex. Notably, lesions did not affect dopamine-β-hydroxylase protein content in the parvocellular paraventricular nucleus (PVN), indicating a lack of collateral damage to other ascending noradrenergic pathways. LC lesions significantly reduced peak adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) and corticosterone responses to 30 min acute restraint stress. However, LC lesions did not significantly attenuate neuroendocrine or other physiological responses to a 4-week chronic variable stress regimen. LC lesions did not substantially affect basal concentrations of plasma corticosterone or corticotropin-releasing hormone mRNA expression in the hypothalamic paraventricular nucleus following chronic stress. We conclude that the LC is a HPA-excitatory brain region, promoting neuroendocrine and physiological responses primarily to acute stress. However, a potential role for the LC in the induction of HPA axis hyperactivity following chronic stress can not be ruled out.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)361-369
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Neuroendocrinology
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1999


  • 6-Hydroxydopamine
  • Adrenocorticotropic hormone
  • Corticosterone
  • Corticotropin-releasing hormone
  • Noradrenaline

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Endocrinology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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