Encyclopedia of Behavioral Medicine

2013 Edition
| Editors: Marc D. Gellman, J. Rick Turner

Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis

  • Jennifer HeaneyEmail author
Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4419-1005-9_460



The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis) is an interactive neuroendocrine unit comprising of the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland, and the adrenal glands. The hypothalamus is located in the brain and the pituitary at the base of it, whereas the adrenals are on top of the kidneys.

The HPA axis plays key roles in basal homeostasis and in the body’s response to stress. The major pathway of the axis results in the production and secretion of cortisol. The hypothalamus responds to basal neural input which follows a circadian rhythm and input as a result of stress by increasing the secretion of corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH) from the hypothalamus. This increase in CRH acts upon the anterior pituitary gland to secrete adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), which in turn circulates to the adrenal cortex to stimulate the release of cortisol into the bloodstream. The HPA axis is an example of a negative feedback loop; cortisol can...

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References and Readings

  1. Greenspan, F. S., & Forsham, P. H. (1983). Basic and clinical endocrinology. Los Altos, CA: Lange Medical.Google Scholar
  2. O’Riordan, F. L. H., Malan, P. G., & Gould, R. P. (1988). Essentials of endocrinology (2nd ed.). Oxford: Blackwell Scientific.Google Scholar
  3. Widmaier, E. P., Raff, H., & Strang, K. T. (2004). Vander, Sherman, & Luciano’s human physiology: The mechanism of body function. New York: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Sport and Exercise SciencesThe University of BirminghamEdgbastonUK