BACKGROUND: Abdominal obesity is associated with hyper-responsiveness of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) axis to stimulatory neuropeptides and to stress. Catecholamines are involved in the regulation of the HPA axis, particularly during stress, via α-adrenoceptor modulation. DESIGN: In this study, we investigated the effects of pre-treatment with an α2-adrenoceptor agonist, clonidine (2 μg/kg over 10 minutes) and antagonist, yohimbine (0.125 mg/kg bolus, followed by 0.001 mg/kg/minutes per 90 minutes infusion) on the HPA axis, measured by ACTH and cortisol response to combined CRH (human, 100 μg) plus AVP (0.3 IU) administration, and on noradrenalin (NA) and adrenalin (A) blood levels, in a group of obese women with abdominal (A-BFD) or peripheral (P-BFD) body fat distribution and in nonobese controls. RESULTS: During the control CRH + AVP test the ACTH but not the cortisol response was higher (P <0.05) in obese A-BFD women than in controls, with minor and transient variations of NA levels. Neither the control test nor clonidine or yohimbine influenced basal or post CRH + AVP A concentrations. Clonidine pretreatment similarly and significantly decreased NA levels in all women and, compared to the control test, marginally influenced the ACTH response to CRH + AVP. Conversely, during yohimbine infusion NA levels steadily and similarly increased to values more or less double baseline values in all groups. Compared to the control test, however, the ACTH response to the CRH + AVP test performed during yohimbine infusion significantly decreased in the control subjects whereas a tendency to a further increase occurred in the obese groups and, specifically, in the A-BFD group significantly (P <0.05) more than in the P-BFD group. CONCLUSIONS: This study shows that α2-adrenoceptor regulation of the HPA axis is different in obese and nonobese women, particularly in stressed conditions. We suggest that the abnormal ACTH response to CRH + AVP challenge with increased noradrenergic tone may represent a specific pathophysiological aspect of the abnormal response to stress or to other specific stimulatory factors in obese women, particularly those with abdominal body fat distribution.
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