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Endocr Res. 1998 Aug-Nov;24(3-4):963-7.

Morphological changes in adrenals from victims of suicide in relation to altered apoptosis.

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  • 1Diabetes Research Institute, University of Duesseldorf, Germany.


Endocrine dysfunction may cause psychiatric symptoms and, vice versa, psychiatric diseases may lead to endocrine alterations. The adrenal as the end organ of both the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical and sympatho-adrenal axes is subject to the functional changes of the stress system. Thus, increased adrenal gland weight was observed previously in victims of violent suicide. This study was designed to analyze the morphological and morphodynamic changes of adrenals from suicide victims. We investigated 30 adrenals obtained from 15 suicide victims using immunohistochemistry and a computerized video system. In addition, apoptosis and cell proliferation were analyzed. We found a significant enlargement of the adrenal cortex to 158.8% (SD = 29.8%, p < 0.01) that was restricted to the two inner zones only (zona reticularis, 161.6 +/- 35.3%; zona fasciculata, 186.4 +/- 34.4%). This increase in adrenocortical size correlated with a decrease in the number of apoptotic cells within the zona fasciculata. In conclusion, these results clearly demonstrate chronic structural adrenal changes in suicide victims. The adrenal gland mirrors the functional changes of the stress system which leaves an imprint on the morphology of the gland.

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