Mineralocorticoid and glucocorticoid receptor balance in control of HPA axis and behaviour

A. P. Harris, M. C. Holmes, E. R. De Kloet, K. E. Chapman, Jonathan R. Seckl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

149 Citations (Scopus)


An imbalance between central glucocorticoid (GR) and mineralocorticoid (MR) receptors is proposed to underlie the HPA axis dysregulation that associates with susceptibility to psychopathology (anxiety, PTSD). To test this 'balance hypothesis' we examined whether the impact of MR levels upon HPA-axis control and behaviour depended on the relative levels of GR and vice versa. Avoiding antenatal maternal 'programming' effects by using littermates, we generated mice with forebrain MR over-expression (MRhi) and/or simultaneous global GR under-expression (GRlo). We found a significant interaction between MR and GR in control of the HPA-axis under stressed but not basal conditions. With reduced GR levels, HPA-axis activity in response to restraint stress was enhanced, likely due to impaired negative feedback. However, high MR in concert with reduced GR minimised this HPA-axis overshoot in response to stress. MR:GR balance also played a role in determining strategies of spatial memory during a watermaze probe trial: when coupled with GR under-expression, MRhi show enhanced perseveration, suggesting enhanced spatial recall or reduced exploratory flexibility. Other alterations in cognitive functions were specific to a single receptor without interaction, with both MRhi and GRlo manipulations independently impairing reversal learning in spatial and fear memory tasks. Thus, MR and GR interact in specific domains of neuroendocrine and cognitive control, but for other limbic-associated behaviours each receptor mediates its own repertoire of responses. Since modulation of HPA-axis and behavioural dysfunction associated with high levels of MR, selective ligands or transcriptional regulators may afford novel therapeutic approaches to affective psychopathologies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)648-658
Number of pages11
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2013
Externally publishedYes


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