Your Brain’s Stress Process Trigger Found


A key molecular stress switch has been pinpointed by researchers at the Center for Brain Research MedUni Vienna.

The protein secretagogin plays an important role in the release of the stress hormone Corticotropin Releasing Hormone (CRH). Only then does secretagogin enable stress processes in the brain to be transmitted to the pituitary gland and then to the organs.

“If, however, the presence of secretagogin, a calcium-binding protein, is suppressed, then CRH (= Corticotropin Releasing Hormone) might not be released in the hypothalamus of the brain thus preventing the triggering of hormonal responses to stress in the body,” said Tibor Harkany of the Department of Molecular Neurosciences at the MedUni Vienna.

How Stress Hormones are Triggered

Your hypothalamus needs the help of CRH to stimulate production and release of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), from cells in the pituitary gland into the blood stream.

ACTH reaches the adrenal cortex and once there triggers the production and release of further hormones including, cortisol, a vital stress hormone. Under stress conditions, the hypothalamus responds by releasing CRH and thus produces the critical signal orchestrating also ACTH and cortisol secretion.

If this cycle is interrupted, it is not possible for acute, and even chronic stress to arise.

Secretagogin protein was in fact discovered at the MedUni Vienna 15 years ago by Ludwig Wagner at the University Department of Internal Medicine III while conducting pancreas research.

“Now we have a better understanding of how stress is generated,” according to Tomas Hökfelt of the Karolinska Institutet.

Stress Treatment Potential

This could lead to developments where secretagogin is used as a tool for stress treatment. In those, for example, suffering from mental illnesses like depression, burnout, post-traumatic stress disorder, or chronic stress brought on by pain, this would be very helpful.

If a rapid recovery phase follows a period of stress, body and mind are restored to normal working states, associated with a suppression of the release of circulating stress hormones.

Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), also known as corticotropin, is an important component of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and is often produced in response to biological stress, along with its precursor corticotropin-releasing hormone from the hypothalamus.

Its principal effects are increased production and release of corticosteroids. Primary adrenal insufficiency, also called Addison’s disease, occurs when adrenal gland production of cortisol is chronically deficient, resulting in chronically elevated ACTH levels; when a pituitary tumor is the cause of elevated ACTH (from the anterior pituitary) this is known as Cushing’s Disease.

The costs of chronic stress are far reaching. For example, stress can lead to an increased tendency to suffer from infections, high blood pressure, diabetes and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease right through to chronic headaches, tinnitus or osteoporosis.

For More information:

R. Romanov, A. Alpar, M.D. Zhang, A. Zeisel, A. Calas, M. Landry, M. Fuszard, S. Shirran, R.Schnell, A. Dobolyi, M. Olah, L. Spence, J. Mulder, H. Martens, M. Palkovits, M. Uhlen, H. Sitte, C. Botting, L. Wagner, S. Linnarsson, T. Hökfelt, T. Harkany.
A secretagogin locus of the mammalian hypothalamus controls stress hormone release
EMBO Journal,. DOI: 10.15252/ embj.201488977 , October 2014.

Dibner, Charna; Schibler, Ueli; Albrecht, Urs (2010).
“The Mammalian Circadian Timing System: Organization and Coordination of Central and Peripheral Clocks”.
Annual Review of Physiology 72: 517–549. doi:10.1146/annurev-physiol-021909-135821.

Last Updated on March 19, 2024