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Stroke. 1994 Jun;25(6):1105-8.

Pattern of activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis in acute stroke. Relation to acute confusional state, extent of brain damage, and clinical outcome.

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  • 1Department of Neurology, University of Heidelberg, Klinikum Mannheim, Germany.



The aim of this study was to characterize the response of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal system in the first hours of ischemic stroke and to relate its extent to the occurrence of acute confusional state, volume of brain damage, and clinical outcome.


The secretion of corticotropin (adrenocorticotropic hormone [ACTH]) and cortisol was studied in 23 patients by determinations at hours 4, 6, 8, 10, and 14 and days 1, 3, 5, and 7 after onset of symptoms. Acute confusional state (DSM-III-R criteria), extent of lesion (volumetry of computed tomographic scans), and neurological and functional outcome (Scandinavian Stroke Scale, Barthel Index scores) were assessed.


The massive neuroendocrine response observed consisted of an initial phase with concomitantly increased levels of ACTH and cortisol and a second phase with decreased levels of ACTH while high concentrations of cortisol persisted. Initial levels of ACTH but not cortisol were significantly increased in patients with acute confusional state and significantly correlated with volume of brain lesion and neurological and functional outcome.


An early and persisting activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis was observed in relation to severity of disease. Its characteristic biphasic pattern suggests an initial central stimulation of release of ACTH followed by feedback suppression concomitant with an increased susceptibility of the adrenal gland. Because these hormones are known to exacerbate hypoxic injury to neurons, their massive release in hyperacute stroke may increase the extent of brain damage.

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