Environmental enrichment rescues female-specific hyperactivity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis in a model of Huntington's disease

X. Du, L. Leang, T. Mustafa, T. Renoir, T. Y. Pang, A. J. Hannan

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Huntington's disease (HD) has long been regarded as a disease of the central nervous system, partly due to typical disease symptoms that include loss of motor control, cognitive deficits and neuropsychiatric disturbances. However, the huntingtin gene is ubiquitously expressed throughout the body. We had previously reported a female-specific depression-related behavioural phenotype in the R6/1 transgenic mouse model of HD. One hypothesis suggests that pathology of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, the key physiological stress-response system that links central and peripheral organs, is a cause of depression. There is evidence of HPA axis pathology in HD, but whether it contributes to the female R6/1 behavioural phenotype is unclear. We have examined HPA axis response of R6/1 mice following acute stress and found evidence of a female-specific dysregulation of the HPA axis in R6/1 mice, which we further isolated to a hyper-response of adrenal cortical cells to stimulation by adrenocorticotrophin hormone. Interestingly, the adrenal pathophysiology was not detected in mice that had been housed in environmentally enriching conditions, an effect of enrichment that was also reproduced in vitro. This constitutes the first evidence that environmental enrichment can in fact exert a lasting influence on peripheral organ function. Cognitive stimulation may therefore not only have benefits for mental function, but also for overall physiological wellbeing.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere133
JournalTranslational Psychiatry
Publication statusPublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • acute stress
  • adrenal gland
  • environmental enrichment
  • glucocorticoid receptor
  • HPA axis
  • Huntington's disease

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