Overexpressing the glucocorticoid receptor in forebrain causes an aging-like neuroendocrine phenotype and mild cognitive dysfunction.

Q Wei; Hebda-Bauer EK; A Pletsch; J Luo; MT Hoversten; AJ Osetek; SJ Evans; SJ Watson; AF Seasholtz; H Akil
J Neurosci. 2007; 27(33):8836-8844.


Repeated stress enhances vulnerability to neural dysfunction that is cumulative over the course of the lifespan. This dysfunction contributes to cognitive deficits observed during aging. In addition, aging is associated with dysregulation of the limbic-hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (LHPA) axis, leading to a delayed termination of the stress response. This delay, in turn, increases exposure to glucocorticoids and exacerbates the likelihood of neural damage. Here we asked whether similar effects could emerge at an early age as a result of genetic variations in the level or function of the brain glucocorticoid receptor (GR). We investigated the effect of forebrain-specific overexpression of GR on LHPA axis activity. Transgenic mice with GR overexpression in forebrain (GRov) display normal basal circulating adrenocorticotropic hormone and corticosterone levels. However, young GRov mice exhibit a number of LHPA alterations, including a blunted initial response to acute restraint stress followed by a delayed turn-off of the stress response. This deficit in negative feedback is paradoxical in the face of elevated GR levels, resembles the stress response in aged animals, and continues to worsen as GRov mice age. The neuroendocrine dysregulation in young GRov mice is coupled with a mild cognitive deficit, also consistent with the accelerated aging hypothesis. The molecular basis of this phenotype was examined using microarray analysis of the hippocampus, which revealed a broad downregulation of glutamate receptor signaling in GRov mice. Thus, even in the absence of chronic stress, elevation of GR gene expression can lead to an increased allostatic load and result in an "aging-like" phenotype in young animals.