Beyond the HPA-axis: The role of the gonadal steroid hormone receptors in modulating stress-related responses in an animal model of PTSD

Daphna Fenchel, Yechiel Levkovitz, Ella Vainer, Zeev Kaplan, Joseph Zohar, Hagit Cohen

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    21 Scopus citations


    The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which plays a major role in the response to stress, and the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal (HPG) axis are closely linked with the ability to inhibit the other. Testosterone, a product of the HPG, has many beneficial effects beyond its functions as a sex hormone including anti-anxiety properties. In this study we examined the effect of stress exposure on gonadal hormones, and their efficacy in modulating anxiety-like response in an animal model of PTSD. Male rats were exposed to predator scent stress, followed by analysis of brain expression of androgen receptor (AR) receptor and estrogen receptor α (ERα). The behavioral effects of immediate treatment with testosterone, testosterone receptor antagonist (flutamide) or vehicle were evaluated using the elevated plus-maze, acoustic startle response and trauma-cue response. Levels of circulating corticosterone and testosterone were also measured after treatment. The behavioral effects of delayed testosterone treatment were explored in the same manner. We report that animals whose behavior was extremely disrupted (EBR) selectively displayed significant down-regulation of AR and ERα in the hippocampus. Immediate treatment with flutamide or delayed treatment with testosterone significantly increased prevalence rates of minimal behavioral response (MBR) and decreased prevalence of EBR with favorable behavioral results. Testosterone levels were higher in control un-exposed animals, while corticosterone was higher in control exposed animals. This study suggests that gonadal steroid hormones are involved in the neurobiological response to predator scent stress and thus warrant further study as a potential therapeutic avenue for the treatment of anxiety-related disorders.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)944-957
    Number of pages14
    JournalEuropean Neuropsychopharmacology
    Issue number6
    StatePublished - 1 Jun 2015


    • Androgen receptor
    • Estrogen receptor α
    • HPA-axis
    • HPG-axis
    • Post-traumatic stress disorder
    • Testosterone


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