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As the end product of the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, the glucocorticoid hormones cortisol and corticosterone coordinate circadian activities, stress-coping, and adaptation to change. For this purpose, the hormone promotes energy metabolism and controls defense reactions in the body and brain. This life-sustaining action exerted by glucocorticoids occurs in concert with the autonomic nervous and immune systems, transmitters, growth factors/cytokines, and neuropeptides. The current contribution will focus on the glucocorticoid feedback paradox in the HPA-axis: the phenomenon that stress responsivity remains resilient if preceded by stress-induced secretion of glucocorticoid hormone, but not if this hormone is previously administered. Furthermore, in animal studies, the mixed progesterone/glucocorticoid antagonist RU486 or mifepristone switches to an apparent partial agonist upon repeated administration. To address these enigmas several interesting phenomena are highlighted. These include the conditional nature of the excitation/inhibition balance in feedback regulation, the role of glucose as a determinant of stress responsivity, and the potential of glucocorticoids in resetting the stress response system. The analysis of the feedback paradox provides also a golden opportunity to review the progress in understanding the role of glucocorticoid hormone in resilience and vulnerability during stress, the science that was burned deeply in Mary Dallman's emotions.


Edo Ronald de Kloet. Glucocorticoid feedback paradox: a homage to Mary Dallman. Stress (Amsterdam, Netherlands). 2023 Nov;26(1):2247090

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PMID: 37589046

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