Acute effects of glucocorticoids: Behavioral and pharmacological perspectives

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There has been evidence since the early eighties that glucocorticoids, apart from their well known chronic effects, may have acute, short-term effects. However, a lack of understanding of the molecular mechanisms of action has hampered appreciation of these observations. Mounting evidence over the years has continued to confirm the early observations on a fast corticosterone control of acute behavioral responses. We summarize experimental data obtained mainly in rats but also in other species which show: (1) that glucocorticoid production is sufficiently quick to affect ongoing behavior; (2) that there exist molecular mechanisms that could conceivably explain the fast neuronal effects of glucocorticoids (although these are still insufficiently understood); (3) that glucocorticoids are able to stimulate a wide variety of behaviors within minutes; and (4) that acute glucocorticoid production (at least in the case of aggressive behavior) is linked to the achievement of the behavioral goal (winning). The achievement of the behavioral goal reduces glucocorticoid production. It is argued that glucocorticoids are regulatory factors having a well-defined behavioral role. Both the acute (stimulatory) effects and the chronic (inhibitory) effects are adaptive in nature. The acute control of behavior by corticosterone is a rather unknown process that deserves further investigation. The pharmacologic importance of the acute glucocorticoid response is that it may readily affect the action of pharmacologic agents. An interaction between acute glucocorticoid increases and noradrenergic treatments has been shown in the case of offensive and defensive agonistic behavior. Non-behavioral data demonstrate that acute increases in glucocorticoids may interfere with other neuroransmitter systems (e.g., with the 5HT system) as well. These observations show the importance of taking into account endocrine background and endocrine responsiveness in behavior pharmacological experiments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)337-344
Number of pages8
JournalNeuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Dec 1998


  • Acute effects
  • Aggression
  • Behavior
  • Ethopharmacology
  • Glucocorticoids
  • Norepinephrine

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience

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