Stress and Disorders of the Stress System

George P. Chrousos

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Abstract and Introduction

Abstract

All organisms must maintain a complex dynamic equilibrium, or homeostasis, which is constantly challenged by internal or external adverse forces termed stressors. Stress occurs when homeostasis is threatened or perceived to be so; homeostasis is re-established by various physiological and behavioral adaptive responses. Neuroendocrine hormones have major roles in the regulation of both basal homeostasis and responses to threats, and are involved in the pathogenesis of diseases characterized by dyshomeostasis or cacostasis. The stress response is mediated by the stress system, partly located in the central nervous system and partly in peripheral organs. The central, greatly interconnected effectors of this system include the hypothalamic hormones arginine vasopressin, corticotropin-releasing hormone and pro-opiomelanocortin-derived peptides, and the locus ceruleus and autonomic norepinephrine centers in the brainstem. Targets of these effectors include the executive and/or cognitive, reward and fear systems, the wake–sleep centers of the brain, the growth, reproductive and thyroid hormone axes, and the gastrointestinal, cardiorespiratory, metabolic, and immune systems. Optimal basal activity and responsiveness of the stress system is essential for a sense of well-being, successful performance of tasks, and appropriate social interactions. By contrast, excessive or inadequate basal activity and responsiveness of this system might impair development, growth and body composition, and lead to a host of behavioral and somatic pathological conditions.

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