Bidirectional communication between the immune and the endocrine systems is now widely accepted as essential for the survival of the organism. Since a classical nonresponsive period of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis takes place shortly after birth and because endogenous sex hormones modulate immune function, the aim of the present work was to determine whether sex steroids regulate the PHA axis response to immune (bacterial, lipopolysaccharide, LPS) and nonimmune (insulin, INS) stressors in mice during development. For this purpose 7-, 15-, 30-, 45- and 60-day-old mice of both sexes were intraperitoneally injected with either vehicle alone (basal) or containing LPS (2 mg/kg body weight) or INS (12 IU/kg body weight). The animals were then killed by decapitation, 2 h or 45 min after LPS or INS, respectively. Plasma samples were assayed to measure corticosterone concentrations. The results indicated that: (a) there was a transient increase in basal plasma corticosterone levels during development, with a peak value at the juvenile age, regardless of sex; (b) a higher basal plasma corticosterone concentration in females than in males chartacterized the adult age; (c) the infantile age is a period of the HPA axis function nonresponsive to purely neuroendocrine but not to inflammatory stimuli; (d) during the juvenile age, females showed a hyporesponsive HPA axis to neurendocrine and immune stress, whereas male mice were fully unresponsive to both challenges; (e) animals of both sexes showed a maximal HPA axis response to purely neuroendocrine stress at the prepubertal age; this response to the immune stimulus was also maximal in 30-day-old males, while it was found in females after puberty (45-day-old mice); (f) sexual dimorphism in the HPA axis response to a purely neuroendocrine stimulus was found at 30 days of age or later, while this characteristic of the response to endotoxin was not present until puberty. These data clearly suggest that these are gender-dependent characteristics of the ontogeny of the HPA and HP-gonadal axes that are responsible for the sexual dimorphism of HPA axis function in mice.

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