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Current Molecular Pharmacology


ISSN (Print): 1874-4672
ISSN (Online): 1874-4702

Review Article

The CRF Family of Neuropeptides and their Receptors - Mediators of the Central Stress Response

Author(s): Nina Dedic, Alon Chen* and Jan M. Deussing

Volume 11, Issue 1, 2018

Page: [4 - 31] Pages: 28

DOI: 10.2174/1874467210666170302104053



Background: Dysregulated stress neurocircuits, caused by genetic and/or environmental changes, underlie the development of many neuropsychiatric disorders. Corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) is the major physiological activator of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and consequently a primary regulator of the mammalian stress response. Together with its three family members, urocortins (UCNs) 1, 2, and 3, CRF integrates the neuroendocrine, autonomic, metabolic and behavioral responses to stress by activating its cognate receptors CRFR1 and CRFR2.

Objective: Here we review the past and current state of the CRF/CRFR field, ranging from pharmacological studies to genetic mouse models and virus-mediated manipulations.

Results: Although it is well established that CRF/CRFR1 signaling mediates aversive responses, including anxiety and depression-like behaviors, a number of recent studies have challenged this viewpoint by revealing anxiolytic and appetitive properties of specific CRF/CRFR1 circuits. In contrast, the UCN/CRFR2 system is less well understood and may possibly also exert divergent functions on physiology and behavior depending on the brain region, underlying circuit, and/or experienced stress conditions.

Conclusion: A plethora of available genetic tools, including conventional and conditional mouse mutants targeting CRF system components, has greatly advanced our understanding about the endogenous mechanisms underlying HPA system regulation and CRF/UCN-related neuronal circuits involved in stress-related behaviors. Yet, the detailed pathways and molecular mechanisms by which the CRF/UCN-system translates negative or positive stimuli into the final, integrated biological response are not completely understood. The utilization of future complementary methodologies, such as cell-type specific Cre-driver lines, viral and optogenetic tools will help to further dissect the function of genetically defined CRF/UCN neurocircuits in the context of adaptive and maladaptive stress responses.

Keywords: Corticotropin-releasing factor, urocortin, stress, mouse genetic tools, hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA), neuropsychiatric disorders.

Graphical Abstract

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