Corticotropin releasing hormone: relevance to normal physiology and to the pathophysiology and differential diagnosis of hypercortisolism and adrenal insufficiency.

P. W. Gold, M. A. Kling, I. Khan, J. R. Calabrese, K. Kalogeras, R. M. Post, P. C. Avgerinos, D. L. Loriaux, G. P. Chrousos

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20 Scopus citations


CRH is a 41 amino acid peptide first isolated from ovine and subsequently from rat and human hypothalami. We have conducted a series of clinical studies with oCRH and hCRH in volunteers and patients with various disorders of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal function. In volunteers, it was demonstrated that hCRH administration produced ACTH and cortisol responses which closely mimic naturalistically occurring secretory episodes. This data, as well as the demonstration that pulsatile hCRH can reestablish normal ACTH and cortisol secretion in patients with hypothalamic CRH deficiency, strongly argue that CRH is of physiological relevance to the human pituitary-adrenal axis. However, since the ACTH response to an insulin tolerance test is greater than the maximal ACTH response to CRH, other factors such as vasopressin may be relevant to stress-induced ACTH secretion in man. Following the demonstration that CRH seems to be of physiological relevance to human subjects, a CRH stimulation test was developed based on pharmacokinetic and dose response studies with oCRH and hCRH. Based on these data, which revealed that oCRH functions as a long-acting analogue of hCRH, and the demonstration that hormonal responses to CRH are greatest in the evening, patient groups with abnormalities of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis were tested with intravenous oCRH with a dose of 1 micrograms/kg given at 2000 hours. This CRH stimulation test has proved helpful in clarifying the pathophysiology of hypercortisolism in a variety of psychiatric disorders characterized by this endocrine abnormality. Thus, blunted ACTH responses in hypercortisolemic patients with depression, anorexia nervosa, and panic anxiety disorder indicate normality of the pituitary corticotroph in these patient subgroups. These data, along with the finding that a continuous infusion of CRH to normal volunteers, reproduces the pattern and magnitude of hypercortisolism in depression and anorexia nervosa, suggest that the hypercortisolism in these disorders represents a defect at or above the hypothalamus resulting in the hypersecretion of CRH. This hypothesis is particularly intriguing in light of the demonstration that CRH administration to experimental animals produces many of the physiological and behavioral responses classically associated with depression and anorexia nervosa, including hypercortisolism, hypothalamic hypogonadism, and decreases in libido and appetite. The CRH stimulation test has also helped to resolve one of the oldest endocrinological dilemmas, namely whether the hypercortisolism of depression and Cushing's disease share a common or dissimilar pathophysiological basis.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)183-200
Number of pages18
JournalAdvances in biochemical psychopharmacology
StatePublished - Jan 1 1987
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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