Corticosteroids, released in high amounts after stress, exert their effects via two different receptors in the brain: glucocorticoid receptors (GRs) and mineralocorticoid receptors (MRs). GRs have a role in normalizing stress-induced effects and promoting consolidation, while MRs are thought to be important in determining the threshold for activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. We investigated the effects of MR blockade on HPA axis responses to stress and stress-induced changes in cognitive function. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study, 64 healthy young men received 400 mg of the MR antagonist spironolactone or placebo. After 1.5 h, they were exposed to either a Trier Social Stress Test or a non-stressful control task. Responses to stress were evaluated by hormonal, subjective, and physiological measurements. Afterwards, selective attention, working memory, and long-term memory performance were assessed. Spironolactone increased basal salivary cortisol levels as well as cortisol levels in response to stress. Furthermore, spironolactone significantly impaired selective attention, but only in the control group. The stress group receiving spironolactone showed impaired working memory performance. By contrast, long-term memory was enhanced in this group. These data support a role of MRs in the regulation of the HPA axis under basal conditions as well as in response to stress. The increased availability of cortisol after spironolactone treatment implies enhanced GR activation, which, in combination with MR blockade, presumably resulted in a decreased MR/GR activation ratio. This condition influences both selective attention and performance in various memory tasks.
Cornelisse, S., Joels, M., & Smeets, T. (2011). A randomized trial on mineralocorticoid receptor blockade in men: Effects on stress responses, selective attention, and memory. Neuropsychopharmacology, 36(13), 2720-2728. https://doi.org/10.1038/npp.2011.162