Previous studies have shown that leptin can regulate the adrenocortical axis. Neonatal rodents exhibit a period of adrenal hyporesponsiveness to stress in the first 2 wk of life, and we determined the role of leptin as a mediator of this process. We examined the direct effects of leptin on neonatal adrenal steroidogenic responses to ACTH under basal conditions and after 24-h maternal separation. In isolated adrenocortical cells from as early as postnatal d 5 (PND5) and throughout the neonatal period, acute (2.5 h) incubation with leptin significantly inhibited ACTH-stimulated corticosterone and aldosterone secretion without affecting cAMP production. In PND10 pups, 24-h maternal separation and the resulting rapid decline in plasma leptin levels increased basal corticosterone and aldosterone secretion in vivo and in isolated cells, but did not modify the ability of leptin to inhibit stimulated steroid production in vitro. Maternal separation in PND10 pups increased adrenal expression of steroidogenic acute regulatory protein (StAR) and peripheral-type benzodiazepine receptor (PBR) proteins as well as all steroidogenic enzymes measured (3β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase, P450C11B1, and P450C11B2). Leptin (1 mg/kg body weight, ip) replacement during maternal separation did not affect basal corticosterone output, but reduced corticosterone secretion and StAR and PBR protein expression induced by exogenous ACTH challenge (20 or 80 μg/kg body weight, ip). These results indicate that leptin inhibits ACTH-stimulated secretion of corticosterone and aldosterone, at least through a rapid reduction in the expression of StAR and PBR protein in the neonatal adrenal gland. As leptin concentrations in pups are controlled to a large extent by the maternal diet, these results emphasize the key role of leptin to mediate the maternal influence on the adrenocortical axis of the infant.
Salzmann, C., Otis, M., Long, H., Roberge, C., Gallo-Payet, N., & Walker, C. D. (2004). Inhibition of steroidogenic response to adrenocorticotropin by leptin: Implications for the adrenal response to maternal separation in neonatal rats. Endocrinology, 145(4), 1810–1822. https://doi.org/10.1210/en.2003-1514