Dysregulation of the Hypothalamus‐Pituitary‐Adrenal Axis in Male and Female, Genetically Obese (ob/ob) Mice

Ralph McGinnis, Joseph Walker, David Margules, Fraser Aird, Eva Redei*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


The autosomal, recessive obesity of ob/ob mice is associated with hypercorticosteronemia and amelioration of most symptoms of obesity following adrenalectomy. Increased adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) secretion has been hypothesized on the basis of several reports of higher pituitary ACTH content in ob/ob mice compared to lean littermates. However, the only measurement of ACTH blood concentration found lower levels in ob/ob mice than in leans suggesting that hypercorticosteronemia might result solely from an enhanced adrenal response to ACTH and also suggesting that the ob/ob's elevated pituitary ACTH content might be due to decreased ACTH secretion rather than increased ACTH synthesis. In our study, basal serum ACTH levels were higher in ob/ob males and females compared to sex‐matched lean littermates. Anterior pituitary ACTH synthesis was also elevated as indicated by increased content of ACTH and proopiomelanocortin mRNA in obese mice of both sexes; however hypothalamic corticotropin‐releasing factor content was not different in lean and obese mice. Basal serum ACTH and corticosterone (CS) levels showed normal circadian rhythm in both phenotypes and sexes, but the circadian increase in CS level was much greater in obese mice than in leans despite equal serum ACTH increases in the two phenotypes. Ether stress at both peak and trough of the circadian rhythm also stimulated much larger serum CS increases in obese mice even though ACTH increases were again equal in the two phenotypes. Taken together, these results strongly indicate that ob/ob mice have increased synthesis and secretion of pituitary ACTH despite the presence of chronically elevated serum CS. This hyperactivity of the hypothalamo‐pituitary‐adrenal axis appears to be most pronounced in ob/ob females since pituitary ACTH content was equal in obese males and females despite much higher circulating CS levels in the females. Furthermore, the results also indicate an enhanced response to ACTH by the adrenal cortex of the obese mouse. Thus, ob/ob mice exhibit abnormal hypothalamo‐pituitary‐adrenal axis function with hyperactivity occurring at the level of pituitary ACTH synthesis/secretion as well as at the level of adrenocortical response to ACTH.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)765-771
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Neuroendocrinology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1992


  • adrenocorticotropic hormone
  • corticosterone
  • corticotropin‐releasing factor
  • obese (ob/ob) mice
  • proopiomelanocortin messenger ribonucleic acid

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Endocrinology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience

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