Traumatic brain injury (TBI) affects 10 million people worldwide, annually. TBI is linked to increased risk of psychiatric disorders. TBI, induced by explosive devices, has a unique phenotype. Over onethird of people exposed to blast-induced TBI (bTBI) have prolonged neuroendocrine deficits, shown by anterior pituitary dysfunction. Dysregulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is linked to increased risk for psychiatric disorders. Not only is there limited information on how the HPA axis responds to mild bTBI (mbTBI), sex differences are understudied. We examined central and peripheral HPA axis reactivity, 7 to 10 days after mbTBI in male and female mice. Males exposed to mbTBI had increased restraint-induced serum corticosterone (CORT), but attenuated restraintinduced corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF)/c-Fos-immunoreactivity (ir) in the paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus (PVN). Females displayed an opposite response, with attenuated restraint-induced CORT and enhanced restraint-induced PVN CRF/c-Fos-ir. We examined potential mechanisms underlying this dysregulation and found that mbTBI did not affect pituitary (proopiomelanocortin and CRF receptor subtype 1) or adrenal (11b-hydroxylase, 11b-dehydrogenase 1, and melanocortin 2 receptor) gene expression. mbTBI did not alter mineralocorticoid or glucocorticoid gene expression in the PVN or relevant limbic structures. In females, but not males, mbTBI decreased c-Fos-ir in non-neuroendocrine (presumably preautonomic) CRF neurons in the PVN. Whereas we demonstrated a sex-dependent link to stress dysregulation of preautonomic neurons in females, we hypothesize that mbTBI may disrupt limbic pathways involved in HPA axis coordination in males. Overall, mbTBI altered the HPA axis in a sex-dependent manner, highlighting the importance of developing therapies to target individual strategies that males and females use to cope with mbTBI.
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