Hormonal evidence for altered responsiveness to social stress in major depression.

EA Young; JF Lopez; Murphy-Weinberg V; SJ Watson; H Akil
Neuropsychopharmacology. 2000; 23(4):411-418.


In patients with major depression, abnormalities in baseline cortisol secretion and resistance to negative feedback are well established. However, it is unclear if patients with major depression have alterations in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) response to stressors. While other challenges to the HPA axis have used endocrine stimuli such as insulin-induced hypoglycemia, we now report of the response to a social stressor in patients with major depression and matched control subjects. We used the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST), a public speaking task followed by mental arithmetic challenge in front of a panel of judges. The results suggest that depressed patients manifest normal cortisol response to a social stressor, despite increased pre-stressor plasma cortisol. However, the beta-endorphin response to the TSST was significantly smaller in the depressed patients compared to matched controls. These data are similar to data found with exogenous corticotropin-releasing-hormone challenge studies and suggest that elevated baseline cortisol can modulate the pituitary corticotroph response to a stressor, but that changes in adrenal sensitivity to ACTH result in a robust cortisol response to this stressor.