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Ann Gen Psychiatry. 2008 Nov 13;7:22. doi: 10.1186/1744-859X-7-22.

Revisiting the Dexamethasone Suppression Test in unipolar major depression: an exploratory study.

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  • 1Third Department of Psychiatry, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Thessaloniki, Greece.



Important methodological questions still exist concerning the Dexamethasone Suppression Test (DST), including the possibility of a better way of interpreting it. The aim of the present study was to explore the feasibility of an alternative way of interpreting DST results.


A total of 50 patients with major depression aged 41.0 +/- 11.4 years old participated in the study. Past and present suicide attempts were recorded. Psychometric assessment included the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HDRS), the Hamilton Anxiety Scale (HAS), the Newcastle Depression Diagnostic Scale (NDDS), the Diagnostic Melancholia Scale (DMS) and the General Assessment of Functioning (GAF) scale. The 1 mg DST protocol was used. Analysis methods included the chi square test and analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) with Fisher least significant difference (LSD) as post hoc tests.


In all, 34 patients (68%) were suppressors, 16 (32%) were non-suppressors and 14 patients had cortisol values above 5 microg/dl at baseline. Baseline cortisol level did not influence the classical DST interpretation. A total of 18 patients (36%) showed an increase of their cortisol levels after dexamethasone administration and 32 patients (64%) showed a decrease. Reducers had less melancholic features, similar levels of depression, better sleep and less suicidal thoughts in comparison to increasers. No relationship of DST to suicidality was found.


The present study explored the pattern of cortisol response to dexamethasone suppression and suggested an alternative way of coding and interpreting the DST on the basis of whether the cortisol levels remain stable or increase vs decrease after the administration of cortisol. The results put forward a complex way of understanding the relationship of the DST results with clinical symptoms.

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