Activation of the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenocortical system is a biological core symptom of depression. Although the regulation of cortisol secretion is well studied in this condition, there is no information about the diurnal activity of dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) secretion. Therefore, we studied 24-h DHEA plasma concentrations (every 30 min) in severely depressed patients (n = 26) and healthy controls (n = 33). We found depression to significantly increase diurnal minimal and mean DHEA plasma concentrations, whereas there was no effect on the diurnal maximal plasma concentration and the diurnal amplitude of DHEA. In particular, we found a parallel increase in mean DHEA (5.8 ± 3.6 vs. 3.4 ± 1.9 nmol/L; P < 0.003), cortisol (286 ± 65 vs. 184 ± 29 nmol/L; P < 0.0001) and ACTH (7.14 ± 2.06 vs. 5.72 ± 1.36 pmol/L; P < 0.002) plasma concentrations. The novel finding of parallel increases in diurnal DHEA and cortisol plasma concentrations in depressed patients has important implications for the regulation of the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenocortical system in conditions of chronic stress and for the rationale of DHEA treatment in depressed patients.
Research Areas and Centers
- Academic Focus: Center for Brain, Behavior and Metabolism (CBBM)