What We Do
Glucocorticoids (GCs; cortisol in humans, corticosterone in rodents) are the principal class of stress hormones released from the adrenal gland into the circulatory system. These chemicals exert widespread effects throughout the body that are representative of their broad role in adaptation during situations that represent a real or perceived threat to one's safety. The brain is unique in that it controls GC release, yet is also a target of these hormones. Under acute conditions, GCs target neural systems in the brain to promote effective behavioral coping during stress. GCs also activate regulatory feedback systems during stress to maintain GC levels to within an optimal level. However, prolonged stress may lead to excessive GC release, perhaps via malfunctioning of regulatory feedback systems in the brain. Stress has been widely implicated in the onset or exacerbation of various psychiatric, neurologic, immunologic, and cardiovascular disorders, whereas high levels of GCs have been documented in major depressive illness, anorexia nervosa, Alzheimer's disease, and certain types of cancer.
Therefore, our work seeks to understand the neural circuitry and cellular processes that (a) control GC release under acute stress (i.e., "normal" conditions), and (b), underlie GC hyperactivity following chronic stress in rodents. We believe that progress in this area of research will help to inform more effective treatments for stress-related psychiatric and systemic disorders. This work will also provide a framework for testing the generality of organization elucidated herein to other motivational systems and related behaviors.