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Psychiatry Res. 1999 Dec 20;89(2):97-106.

Severity of depression in abstinent alcoholics is associated with monoamine metabolites and dehydroepiandrosterone-sulfate concentrations.

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National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA.


Depressed mood increases the relapse risk of abstinent alcoholics; its neurobiological correlates may include reduced serotonin and norepinephrine turnover rates and increased cortisol concentrations during detoxification stress. Neurosteroids such as dehydroepiandrosterone and its sulfate (DHEA and DHEA-S) may antagonize cortisol action and may have mood-elevating effects on their own. We measured severity of depression with Beck's Depression Inventory (BDI) and Hamilton's Depression Rating Scale (HDRS), plasma concentrations of cortisol, DHEA and DHEA-S, and CSF concentrations of the serotonin metabolite 5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid (5-HIAA), the norepinephrine metabolite 3-methoxy-4-hydroxyphenylglycol (MHPG) and the dopamine metabolite homovanillic acid (HVA) in 21 abstinent alcoholics after 4 weeks of abstinence and in 11 age-matched healthy control subjects. Only CSF MHPG concentrations were reduced in alcoholics compared to control subjects (41.4 +/- 6.6 vs. 53.3 +/- 8.6 pmol/ml). Self-rated depression was significantly correlated with CSF MHPG (Spearman's R = +0.57, P < 0.01), CSF 5-HIAA (R = +0.51, P < 0.05) and plasma cortisol concentrations (R = +0.50, P < 0.05). Negative correlations were found between DHEA-S concentrations and both self-rated depression (R = -0.45, P < 0.05) and observer-rated depression (R = -0.55, P < 0.05). The ratio of DHEA-S to cortisol serum concentrations was also negatively correlated with depression (BDI: R = -0.55, P < 0.01; HDRS: R = -0.63, P < 0.005). Anxiety (Spielberger's State Anxiety Scale) was only associated with CSF MHPG concentrations (R = +0.58, P < 0.01). Our findings point to the importance of noradrenergic dysfunction in the pathogenesis of depression among abstinent alcoholics and indicate that their mood states may also be modulated by a low DHEA-S to cortisol ratio, hypothetically indicative of low stress protection capacities.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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