• dorsomedial hypothalamic nucleus;
  • hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis;
  • adrenocorticotrophic hormone;
  • paraventricular nucleus;
  • lesion

Accumulating evidence implicates the dorsomedial hypothalamic nucleus (DMH) in the regulation of autonomic and neuroendocrine stress responses. However, although projections from the DMH to the paraventricular hypothalamic nucleus (PVN), which is the critical site of the neuroendocrine stress axis, have been described, the impact of DMH neurones in the modulation of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis activation during stress is not fully understood. The present study aimed to investigate the role of the DMH in HPA axis responses to different types of stimuli. Male Sprague–Dawley rats fitted with a chronic jugular venous catheter were exposed to either an emotional stressor (elevated platform-exposure) or immune challenge (systemic interleukin-1β administration). Bilateral electrolytic lesions of the DMH disinhibited HPA axis responses to the emotional stressor, as indicated by higher plasma adrenocorticotrophic hormone levels during and after elevated platform exposure in lesioned animals compared to sham-lesioned controls. Moreover, DMH-lesioned animals showed increased neuronal activation in the PVN, as indicated by a higher c-Fos expression after elevated-platform exposure compared to controls. By contrast, DMH-lesions had no effects on HPA axis responses to immune challenge. Taken together, our data suggest an inhibitory role of DMH neurones on stress-induced HPA axis activation that is dependent upon the nature of the stimulus being important in response to an emotional stressor but not to immune challenge.