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Biol Psychiatry. 1989 Mar 15;25(6):739-54.

The plasma dexamethasone window: evidence supporting its usefulness to validate dexamethasone suppression test results.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, University of Sydney, Australia.


Two doses of dexamethasone (DEX) (0.5 and 1.0 mg) were administered in a randomized crossover design to 31 patients with major depression, 9 healthy controls, and 14 nondepressed psychiatric patients. Using this modified Dexamethasone Suppression Test (DST), minimum DEX levels of 6 nmol/liter at 8:00 AM and 2.0 nmol/liter at 4:00 PM were required to achieve reliable suppression of cortisol in healthy controls and nondepressed psychiatric patients. Failure to achieve these minimum plasma DEX levels was associated with similar rates of nonsuppression in both depressed and nondepressed patients, thereby reducing the specificity of the DST. Conversely, high DEX levels greater than 13 nmol/liter at 8:00 AM or 4.0 nmol/liter at 4:00 PM were associated with abnormal "suppressibility" in depressed patients, thereby reducing the sensitivity of the test. Controlling for plasma DEX concentrations by selecting a test result that fell within a plasma DEX window at 8:00 AM and 4:00 PM increased the sensitivity and specificity of the DST. Significant differences in plasma DEX between suppressors and nonsuppressors were no longer evident when comparing patients with adequate DEX levels, thus ensuring that cortisol escape reflected HPA axis changes associated with depression and not peripheral mechanisms responsible for the availability of DEX. These results suggest that the clinical utility of the DST would be significantly enhanced by extending the standard 1.0-mg DST and retesting those patients with levels outside the DEX window with a higher or lower dose. The data also indicate that the measurement of plasma DEX is essential to validly interpret DST status and highlight the need to standardize DEX assays to compare DST results between research centers.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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