DESCRIPTION (provided by applicant): Stress response is important for survival. However, prolonged exposure to stressors produces detrimental effects, increasing the susceptibility for anxiety disorders, depression, eating disorders and obesity. A common feature of these illnesses is the perturbation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. Corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) plays a pivotal role in the mediation of stress responses, particularly HPA activation. Recently, anatomical and functional evidence indicates that the central melanocortin system, a critical regulator of energy balance, interacts with the stress system and modulates HPA activity through CRH. This system consists of two opposite signaling components, the endogenous agonist alpha-MSH and the endogenous antagonist AgRP. The goal of this project is to study the role of the melanocortin system in stress responsiveness, focusing on HPA activation. First, we plan to identify the regulatory effects of acute and chronic stress on alpha-MSH, AgRP and their common receptor MC4R by measuring their transcriptional and translational responses in two key structures within stress circuits (the paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus and amygdala) using in situ hybridization, receptor autoradiography and radioimmunoassay;Second, we will determine the impact of the melanocortin system on the HPA response to acute and chronic stress using pharmacologic and molecular means to alter activation status or the expression level of MC4R. Given that studies on this system have been primarily focused on the regulation of feeding and body weight in recent years, the proposed studies in this project will not only shed light on biological functions of melanocortin signaling in stress, but also provide new insights into the interface between stress and eating disorders/obesity.
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