Effects of aging on hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis activity and reactivity in virgin male and female California mice (Peromyscus californicus)

Breanna N. Harris, Wendy Saltzman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Life history theory posits that organisms face a trade-off between current and future reproductive attempts. The physiological mechanisms mediating such trade-offs are still largely unknown, but glucocorticoid hormones are likely candidates as elevated, post-stress glucocorticoid levels have been shown to suppress both reproductive physiology and reproductive behavior. Aged individuals have a decreasing window in which to reproduce, and are thus predicted to invest more heavily in current as opposed to future reproduction. Therefore, if glucocorticoids are important in mediating the trade-off between current and future reproduction, aged animals are expected to show decreased hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis responses to stressors and to stimulation by corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), and enhanced responses to glucocorticoid negative feedback, as compared to younger animals. We tested this hypothesis in the monogamous, biparental California mouse by comparing baseline and post-stress corticosterone levels, as well as corticosterone responses to dexamethasone (DEX) and CRH injections, between old (∼18-20. months) and young (∼4. months) virgin adults of both sexes. We also measured gonadal and uterine masses as a proxy for investment in potential current reproductive effort. Adrenal glands were weighed to determine if older animal had decreased adrenal mass. Old male mice had lower plasma corticosterone levels 8. h after DEX injection than did young male mice, suggesting that the anterior pituitary of older males is more sensitive to DEX-induced negative feedback. Old female mice had higher body-mass-corrected uterine mass than did young females. No other differences in corticosterone levels or organ masses were found between age groups within either sex. In conclusion, we did not find strong evidence for age-related change in HPA activity or reactivity in virgin adult male or female California mice; however, future studies investigating HPA activity and reproductive outcomes in young and old breeding adults would be illuminating.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)41-49
Number of pages9
JournalGeneral and Comparative Endocrinology
StatePublished - Jun 1 2013


  • Age
  • California mouse
  • Corticosterone
  • Glucocorticoids
  • Reproduction
  • Stress
  • Trade-off


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