Modeling the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal system: Homeostasis by interacting positive and negative feedback

Matthias Conrad*, Christian Hubold, Bernd Fischer, Achim Peters

*Corresponding author for this work
29 Citations (Scopus)


The hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) system is closely related to stress and the restoration of homeostasis. This system is stimulated in the second half of the night, decreases its activity in the daytime, and reaches the homeostatic level during the late evening. In this paper, we derive and discuss a novel model for the HPA system. It is based on three simple rules that constitute a principle of homeostasis and include only the most substantive physiological elements. In contrast to other models, its main components include, apart from the conventional negative feedback ingredient, a positive feedback loop. To validate the model, we present a parameter estimation procedure that enables one to adapt the model to clinical observations. Using this methodology, we are able to show that the novel model is capable of simulating clinical trials. Furthermore, the stationary state of the system is investigated. We show that, under mild conditions, the system always has a well-defined set-point, which reflects the clinical situation to be modeled. Finally, the computed parameters may be interpreted from a physiological point of view, thereby leading to insights about diseases like depression, obesity, or diabetes.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Biological Physics
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)149-162
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - 01.05.2009


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