3xTg-AD Mice Exhibit an Activated Central Stress Axis During Early-Stage Pathology

Hebda-Bauer EK, Simmons TA, Sugg A, Ural E, Stewart JA, Beals JL, Wei Q, Watson SJ, Akil H
J Alzheimers Dis. 2012; 33(2):407-22.


Activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis occurs in response to the organism's innate need for homeostasis. The glucocorticoids (GCs) that are released into the circulation upon acute activation of the HPA axis perform stress-adaptive functions and provide negative feedback to turn off the HPA axis, but can be detrimental when in excess. Long-term activation of the HPA axis (such as with chronic stress) enhances susceptibility to neuronal dysfunction and death, and increases vulnerability to Alzheimer's disease (AD). However, little is known how components of the HPA axis, upstream of GCs, impact vulnerability to AD. This study examined basal gene expression of stress-related molecules in brains of 3xTg-AD mice during early-stage pathology. Basal GC levels and mRNA expression of the glucocorticoid receptor (GR), mineralocorticoid receptor (MR), and corticotropic releasing hormone (CRH) in several stress- and emotionality-related brain regions were measured in 3-4-month-old 3xTg-AD mice. Despite normal GC levels, young 3xTg-AD mice exhibit an activated central HPA axis, with altered mRNA levels of MR and GR in the hippocampus, GR and CRH in the paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus, GR and CRH in the central nucleus of the amygdala, and CRH in the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis. This HPA axis activation is present during early-stage neuropathology when 3xTg-AD mice show mild behavioral changes, suggesting an ongoing neuroendocrine regulation that precedes the onset of severe AD-like pathology and behavioral deficits.