The postnatal development of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis in the mouse

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Int J Dev Neurosci, Volume 21, Number 3, p.125-132 (2003)


0736-5748 (Print)0736-57

DOI Name (links to online publication)



Adrenocorticotropic Hormone/blood; Aging/metabolism; Animals; Brain/physiopathology; Corticosterone/blood; Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone/metabolism; Female; Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System/*growth; &; development/pathology; Male; Maternal Deprivation;


The main characteristic of the postnatal development of the stress system in the rat is the so-called stress hypo-responsive period (SHRP). Lasting from postnatal day (pnd) 4 to pnd 14, this period is characterized by very low basal corticosterone levels and an inability of mild stressors to induce an enhanced ACTH and corticosterone release. During the last years, the mouse has become a generally used animal in stress research, also due to the wide availability of genetically modified mouse strains. However, very few data are available on the ontogeny of the stress system in the mouse. This study therefore describes the postnatal ontogeny of peripheral and central aspects of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis in the mouse. We measured ACTH and corticosterone in blood and CRH, urocortin 3 (UCN3), mineralocorticoid receptor (MR) and glucocorticoid receptor (GR) transcripts in the brain at postnatal days 1, 2, 4, 6, 9, 12, 14 and 16. Our results show that we can subdivide the postnatal development of the HPA axis in the mouse in two phases. The first phase corresponds to the SHRP in the rat and lasts from right after birth (pnd 1) until pnd 12. Basal corticosterone levels were low and novelty exposure did not enhance corticosterone or ACTH levels. This period is further characterized by a high expression of CRH in the paraventricular nucleus (PVN) of the hypothalamus. Expression levels of GR in the hippocampus and UCN3 in the perifornical area are low at birth but increase significantly during the SHRP, both reaching the highest expression level at pnd 12. In the second phase, the mice have developed past the SHRP and were now exhibiting enhanced corticosterone basal levels and a response of ACTH and corticosterone to mild novelty stress. CRH expression was decreased significantly, while expression of UCN3 and GR remained high, with a small decrease at pnd 16. The expression of MR in the hippocampus was very dynamic throughout the postnatal development of the HPA axis and changed in a time and subregion specific manner. These results demonstrate for the first time the correlation between the postnatal endocrine development of the mouse and gene expression changes of central regulators of HPA axis function.