The acute and post-discontinuation effects of a glucocorticoid receptor (GR) antagonist probe on sleep and the HPA axis in chronic insomnia: a pilot study

T. Buckley; V. Duggal; A. F. Schatzberg
J Clin Sleep Med. 2008; 4(3):235-241.


STUDY OBJECTIVE: Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA) hyperactivity has been reported in patients with chronic insomnia without depression. Aglucocorticoid receptor (GR) antagonist may re-regulate HPA axis activity even after discontinuation and may have clinical benefit. METHODS: Ten subjects with chronic insomnia participated in a placebo controlled double-blinded prospective 30-day pilot study of the acute and post-discontinuation effects of a 5-day course of 600 mg of the glucocorticoid antagonist, mifepristone. Sleep outcome measures were polysomnogram and Insomnia Severity Index. Hormonal outcome measures were mean overnight cortisol and ACTH (23:00-07:00). We predicted sleep would improve and that overnight cortisol and ACTH would decrease at 2 weeks post-treatment discontinuation. RESULTS: At 2 weeks post-discontinuation, Insomnia Severity Index (ISI) decreased by 4.0 points (effect size = 0.97). Polysomnogram findings were limited. Mean cortisol (0.84 microg/dL, effect size = 0.91) and ACTH (5.50 pg/mL, effect size = 0.96) were still mildly increased (23:00 to 07:00). Post hoc analysis revealed that, the ratio of cortisol/ ACTH decreased (-0.21, effect size = 1.15) as did mean cortisol from 18:00 to 23:00 (-0.47 microg/dL, effect size = 0.56). CONCLUSIONS: This is the first study of a GR antagonist in chronic insomnia. Sleep improvement manifests in terms of decreased ISI post-treatment discontinuation. The decrease in cortisol in the early evening (18:00 to 23:00) in combination with the decrease in cortisol/ ACTH ratio may be an indicator of the longer-term biological mode of action of the drug.