The pubertal maturation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis has received relatively little experimental attention. The present set of experiments sought to extend our understanding of the pubertal stress response by measuring corticotropin (ACTH), corticosterone, and testosterone levels in prepubertal and adult male rats exposed to a single 30-min session of restraint stress. We show that ACTH and corticosterone levels in prepubertal males take significantly longer to return to baseline after termination of the stressor compared to adults. These data indicate that prepubertal males demonstrate a more prolonged stress response compared to adults after a single acute stressor with both psychogenic and neurogenic components. As testosterone has been shown to reduce the stress response in adulthood, we next investigated whether the relatively low levels of circulating testosterone in prepubertal males mediated their protracted stress response. Data collected from additional experiments revealed that prepubertal males treated with adult-like physiological levels of testosterone still exhibited an extended stress response compared to similarly treated adults. These results indicate that the stress response demonstrated by adult males cannot be mimicked or activated in prepubertal males by mere supplementation of testosterone. Thus, we conclude that the HPA neuroendocrine axis is further shaped during pubertal development to allow for the emergence of a more tightly regulated stress response in adulthood.

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