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Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. 2007 Jun 30;31(5):1027-33. Epub 2007 Mar 7.

Corticotropin-releasing factor test in melancholic patients in depressed state versus recovery: a comparative study.

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  • 1Psychiatry Department, Neurosciences Institute, Hospital Clínico de Barcelona, C/ Roselló 140, Barcelona, Spain.



Basal adrenocorticotropin hormone (ACTH) and cortisol levels and their response to corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) test were studied in melancholic depressive patients in depressed state and recovery, and compared with healthy controls.


Fifty-four outpatients diagnosed with unipolar depressive disorder with melancholic features according to DSM-IV and 23 healthy controls were included in the study. The Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV (SCID-IV) was used for diagnosis. Twenty-nine patients were in recovery, while 25 were in depressed state at the moment of the administration of the CRF test.


No differences were found between the recovered and depressed groups with respect to CRF test. Lower ACTH and higher cortisol levels with significant differences were shown in the neuroendocrine variables at 15, 30, and 60 min, and in peak response and increase, in the ACTH and cortisol response curves to CRF challenge between the groups of melancholic patients, both recovered and depressed, compared with the healthy control subjects. Moreover, recovered and depressed melancholic patients had a higher whole cortisol area under the curve with significant differences than the healthy control subjects.


The crossover clinical status at the moment of the CRF test doesn't differentiate changes in the HPA axis in melancholic patients, while we did find significant differences in the group of healthy controls in comparison with the groups of melancholic patients both in depressive state and recovery. This supports the hypothesis that hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis shows alterations that remain in depressive patients even after recovery.

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