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Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone (CRH) Downregulates the Function of Its Receptor (CRF1) and Induces CRF1 Expression in Hippocampal and Cortical Regions of the Immature Rat Brain


In addition to regulating the neuroendocrine stress response, corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) has been implicated in both normal and pathological behavioral and cognitive responses to stress. CRH-expressing cells and their target neurons possessing CRH receptors (CRF1 and CRF2) are distributed throughout the limbic system, but little is known about the regulation of limbic CRH receptor function and expression, including regulation by the peptide itself. Because CRH is released from limbic neuronal terminals during stress, this regulation might play a crucial role in the mechanisms by which stress contributes to human neuropsychiatric conditions such as depression or posttraumatic stress disorder. Therefore, these studies tested the hypothesis that CRH binding to CRF1 influenced the levels and mRNA expression of this receptor in stress-associated limbic regions of immature rat. Binding capacities and mRNA levels of both CRF1 and CRF2 were determined at several time points after central CRH administration. CRH downregulated CRF1 binding in frontal cortex significantly by 4 h. This transient reduction (no longer evident at 8 h) was associated with rapid increase of CRF1 mRNA expression, persisting for >8 h. Enhanced CRF1 expression-with a different time course-occurred also in hippocampal CA3, but not in CA1 or amygdala, CRF2 binding and mRNA levels were not altered by CRH administration. To address the mechanisms by which CRH regulated CRF1, the specific contributions of ligand-receptor interactions and of the CRH-induced neuronal stimulation were examined. Neuronal excitation without occupation of CRF1 induced by kainic acid, resulted in no change of CRF1 binding capacity, and in modest induction of CRF1 mRNA expression. Furthermore, blocking the neuroexcitant effects of CRH (using pentobarbital) abolished the alterations in CRF1 binding and expression. These results indicate that CRF1 regulation involves both occupancy of this receptor by its ligand, as well as "downstream" cellular activation and suggest that stress-induced perturbation of CRH-CRF1 signaling may contribute to abnormal neuronal communication after some stressful situations.

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