The ACTH response to CRF and the role of glucocorticoids on the pituitary-adrenal responsiveness to acute stressors after a period of chronic stress were assessed in Sprague-Dawley rats. After chronic immobilization (IMO) an enhanced ACTH response to CRF administration was observed. In another experiment, control and chronic IMO rats were adrenalectomized (ADX) or sham-adrenalectomized (SHAM) and 2 days later killed in resting conditions or after having been subjected to acute IMO or tail-shock for 30 min. Chronic IMO increased basal corticosterone but not adrenocorticotropin (ACTH) levels in SHAM rats. As expected, ADX increased ACTH levels in all conditions. In response to the novel acute stressor (shock), ACTH levels were drastically dependent on the presence of corticosterone: thus, whereas in SHAM rats chronic IMO reduced the ACTH response to shock, in ADX rats a clear enhancement of the ACTH response to shock was observed in chronic IMO rats. In order to demonstrate that, in our experimental conditions, chronic stress also induces down-regulation of glucocorticoid receptors in the hippocampus, an additional experiment was done: rats subjected chronically to IMO or administered 5 mg corticosterone (B) were adrenalectomized and killed 20 h later under basal conditions. Both chronic IMO and chronic B administration decreased glucocorticoid type II binding in the hippocampus. From these results, it is concluded that chronic IMO induces facilitation of the ACTH response to novel acute stressors which is uncovered after corticosterone removal.

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