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JI Webster and EM Sternberg

The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is activated during many bacterial and viral infections, resulting in an increase in circulating glucocorticoid levels. This HPA axis activation and glucocorticoid response are critical for the survival of the host, as demonstrated by the fact that removal of the HPA axis (by adrenalectomy or hypophysectomy) or glucocorticoid receptor (GR) blockade enhances the severity of the infection and in some cases enhances the mortality rate. Replacement with a synthetic glucocorticoid reverses these effects by reducing the severity of the infection and provides protection against lethal effects. In addition, some bacteria and viral infections have been shown to affect the GR directly. These have been described and the implications of such an effect discussed.