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      Voluntary Exercise Impacts on the Rat Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenocortical Axis Mainly at the Adrenal Level

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          Introduction: Evidence is accumulating that the regular performance of exercise is beneficial for stress coping. However, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) axis of voluntarily exercising rats has never been comprehensively investigated. Methods: Therefore, male Sprague-Dawley rats were given access to a running wheel in their home cage for 4 weeks in which they ran 4–7 km per night. Results: After 4 weeks, the exercising animals showed significantly less body weight gain, less abdominal fat tissue, decreased thymus weight, and increased adrenal weight (relative to body weight). Furthermore, tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) mRNA levels were selectively increased in the right adrenal me- dulla indicating an increase in sympathoadrenomedullary capacity in exercising rats. No changes were observed in paraventricular corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), arginine-vasopressin (AVP) and oxytocin mRNA levels. Mineralocorticoid receptor (MR) mRNA levels in hippocampus and glucocorticoid receptor (GR) mRNA levels in frontal cortex, parvocellular paraventricular nucleus and anterior pituitary were unchanged, whereas GR mRNA levels were increased in distinct hippocampal cell layers. Early morning baseline levels of plasma ACTH and corticosterone were similar in both groups. Interestingly, the response to different stressful stimuli (e.g. forced swimming, novelty) revealed that the exercising rats showed stressor-specific changes in HPA hormone responses. Forced swimming evoked a markedly enhanced response in corticosterone levels in the exercising rats. In contrast, if rats were exposed to a novel environment, exercising rats showed a much lower response in corticosterone than the control animals. However, the response in ACTH to either stressor was comparable between groups. Thus, in exercising rats physically demanding stressors evoke enhanced glucocorticoid responses whereas mild psychologically stressful stimuli such as novelty result in an attenuated glucocorticoid response. Interestingly, this attenuated hormone response corresponded with the observation that the exercising rats showed less anxious behaviour in the novelty situation. Conclusions: The differential responses in plasma corticosterone levels to different types of stress in the face of comparable responses in ACTH levels underscore the existence of critical regulatory control mechanisms at the level of the adrenal gland. We have hypothesized that changes in the sympathoadrenomedullary input may play an important role in these distinct glucocorticoid responses to stress. Our previous studies have shown similar changes in voluntarily exercising mice. Therefore, we conclude that the effects of exercise on the organism are not species-specific. Thus, our observations may have translational implications for the human situation.

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          Most cited references 31

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          How Do Glucocorticoids Influence Stress Responses? Integrating Permissive, Suppressive, Stimulatory, and Preparative Actions

           R M Sapolsky (2000)
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            Central mechanisms of stress integration: hierarchical circuitry controlling hypothalamo–pituitary–adrenocortical responsiveness

            Appropriate regulatory control of the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenocortical stress axis is essential to health and survival. The following review documents the principle extrinsic and intrinsic mechanisms responsible for regulating stress-responsive CRH neurons of the hypothalamic paraventricular nucleus, which summate excitatory and inhibitory inputs into a net secretory signal at the pituitary gland. Regions that directly innervate these neurons are primed to relay sensory information, including visceral afferents, nociceptors and circumventricular organs, thereby promoting 'reactive' corticosteroid responses to emergent homeostatic challenges. Indirect inputs from the limbic-associated structures are capable of activating these same cells in the absence of frank physiological challenges; such 'anticipatory' signals regulate glucocorticoid release under conditions in which physical challenges may be predicted, either by innate programs or conditioned stimuli. Importantly, 'anticipatory' circuits are integrated with neural pathways subserving 'reactive' responses at multiple levels. The resultant hierarchical organization of stress-responsive neurocircuitries is capable of comparing information from multiple limbic sources with internally generated and peripherally sensed information, thereby tuning the relative activity of the adrenal cortex. Imbalances among these limbic pathways and homeostatic sensors are likely to underlie hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenocortical dysfunction associated with numerous disease processes.
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              The effect of exercise on depression, anxiety and other mood states: a review.

               A. Byrne,  D.G. Byrne (1993)
              This paper addresses the current literature related to investigations of the link between exercise treatments and depression, anxiety and other mood states. Results from these investigations are supportive of the anti-depressant, anti-anxiety and mood enhancing effects of exercise programs. There were considered to be, however, a number of potential methodological problems in many of the research studies; the nature of these were considered. Finally, some possible directions for future research are outlined.

                Author and article information

                S. Karger AG
                August 2007
                25 June 2007
                : 86
                : 1
                : 26-37
                Henry Wellcome Laboratories for Integrative Neuroscience and Endocrinology, Dorothy Hodgkin Building, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK
                104770 Neuroendocrinology 2007;86:26–37
                © 2007 S. Karger AG, Basel

                Copyright: All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be translated into other languages, reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, microcopying, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. Drug Dosage: The authors and the publisher have exerted every effort to ensure that drug selection and dosage set forth in this text are in accord with current recommendations and practice at the time of publication. However, in view of ongoing research, changes in government regulations, and the constant flow of information relating to drug therapy and drug reactions, the reader is urged to check the package insert for each drug for any changes in indications and dosage and for added warnings and precautions. This is particularly important when the recommended agent is a new and/or infrequently employed drug. Disclaimer: The statements, opinions and data contained in this publication are solely those of the individual authors and contributors and not of the publishers and the editor(s). The appearance of advertisements or/and product references in the publication is not a warranty, endorsement, or approval of the products or services advertised or of their effectiveness, quality or safety. The publisher and the editor(s) disclaim responsibility for any injury to persons or property resulting from any ideas, methods, instructions or products referred to in the content or advertisements.

                Page count
                Figures: 5, Tables: 3, References: 69, Pages: 12
                CRF, Adrenocorticotropin, Adrenal Steroids and Stress


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