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Biol Psychiatry. 2002 Dec 1;52(11):1102-12.

Hyperresponsiveness of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis to combined dexamethasone/corticotropin-releasing hormone challenge in female borderline personality disorder subjects with a history of sustained childhood abuse.

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GGZ Buitenamstel, Department of Psychiatry, Free University Amsterdam, The Netherlands.



High coincidence of childhood abuse, major depressive disorder (MDD), and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has been reported in patients with borderline personality disorder (BPD). Animals exposed to early trauma show increased stress-induced hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis activity due to an enhanced corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) drive and glucocorticoid feedback resistance. In humans, PTSD and MDD are associated with decreased and increased resistance to glucocorticoid feedback, respectively, which might reflect persistent changes in neuroendocrine sequelae following childhood abuse.


We investigated the relationship between childhood abuse and HPA axis function using a combined dexamethasone/CRH (DEX/CRH) test in 39 BPD patients with (n = 24) and without (n = 15) sustained childhood abuse and comorbid PTSD (n = 12) or MDD (n = 11) and 11 healthy control subjects.


Chronically abused BPD patients had a significantly enhanced corticotropin (ACTH) and cortisol response to the DEX/CRH challenge compared with nonabused subjects. Comorbid PTSD significantly attenuated the ACTH response.


Hyperresponsiveness of the HPA axis in chronically abused BPD subjects might be due to the enhanced central drive to pituitary ACTH release. Sustained childhood abuse rather than BPD, MDD, or PTSD pathology accounts for this effect. Possibly due to an enhanced efficacy of HPA suppression by dexamethasone, PTSD attenuates the ACTH response to DEX/CRH.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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