Activation of the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis by bacterial endotoxins: routes and intermediate signals

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Psychoneuroendocrinology, Volume 19, Number 2, p.209-232 (1994)

DOI Name (links to online publication)



Adrenocorticotropic Hormone; Affect; Afferent Pathways; Animals; blood; Brain; Corticosterone; Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone; Dinoprostone; Endothelium; Vascular; Endotoxins; General Adaptation Syndrome; Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System; immunology; Interl


Peripheral administration of endotoxin induces brain-mediated responses, including activation of the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and changes in thermoregulation. This paper reviews the mechanisms by which endotoxin affects these responses. The effects on thermoregulation are complex and include macrophage-dependent hyperthermic and hypothermic responses. Low doses of endotoxin, given IP, activate peripheral macrophages to produce interleukin (IL)-1 beta, which enters the circulation and acts as a hormonal signal. IL-1 may pass fenestrated endothelium in the median eminence to stimulate corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) secretion from the CRH nerve-terminals. In addition, IL-1 may activate brain endothelial cells to produce IL-1, IL-6, prostaglandins, etc., and secrete these substances into the brain. By paracrine actions, these substances may affect neurons (e.g., CRH neurons) or act on microglial cells, which show IL-1-induced IL-1 production and therefore amplify and prolong the intracerebral IL-1 signal. In contrast, high doses of endotoxin given i.v. may directly stimulate endothelial cells to produce IL-1, IL-6, and prostaglandin-E2 (PGE2) and thereby activate the HPA axis in a macrophage-independent manner