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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Endocrinology of Stress


When an animal detects a stressor, it initiates a stress response. The physiological aspects of this stress response are mediated through two endocrine systems. The catecholamine hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine are released from the adrenal medulla very rapidly and have numerous effects on behavior, metabolism, and the cardiovascular system. This is commonly termed the Fight-or-Flight response. On a longer time scale, the glucocorticoid hormones are released from the adrenal cortex. They interact with intracellular receptors and initiate gene transcription. This production of new proteins means that glucocorticoids have a delayed, but more sustained, effect than the catecholamines. The glucocorticoids orchestrate a wide array of responses to the stressor. They have direct effects on behavior, metabolism and energy trafficking, reproduction, growth, and the immune system. The sum total of these responses is designed to help the animal survive a short-term stressful stimulus. However, under conditions of long-term stress, the glucocorticoid-mediated effects become maladaptive and can lead to disease.

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