Corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) and the urocortins (UCNs) are structurally and pharmacologically related neuropeptides which regulate the endocrine, autonomic, emotional and behavioral responses to stress. CRF and UCN1 activate both CRF receptors (CRFR1 and CRFR2) with CRF binding preferentially to CRFR1 and UCN1 binding equipotently to both receptors. UCN2 and UCN3 activate selectively CRFR2.
Previously an in vitro study demonstrated that superfusion of both CRF and UCN1 elevated the GABA release elicited by electrical stimulation from rat amygdala, through activation of CRF1 receptors. In the present experiments, the same in vitro settings were used to study the actions of CRF and the urocortins on hypothalamic GABA release.
CRF and UCN1 administered in equimolar doses increased significantly the GABA release induced by electrical stimulation from rat hypothalamus. The increasing effects of CRF and UCN1 were inhibited considerably by the selective CRFR1 antagonist antalarmin, but were not influenced by the selective CRFR2 antagonist astressin 2B. UCN2 and UCN3 were ineffective.
We conclude that CRF1 receptor agonists induce the release of GABA in the hypothalamus as well as previously the amygdala. We speculate that CRF-induced GABA release may act as a double-edged sword: amygdalar GABA may disinhibit the hypothalamic CRF release, leading to activation of the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis, whereas hypothalamic GABA may inhibit the hypothalamic CRF release, terminating this activation.