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Neuropsychopharmacology. 2003 May;28(5):985-94. Epub 2003 Mar 26.

Corticotropin-releasing factor testing reveals a dose-dependent difference in methadone maintained vs control subjects.

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Laboratory of the Biology of Addictive Diseases, The Rockefeller University, 1230 York Avenue, New York, NY 10021-6399, USA.


Opiate addiction is associated with abnormal function of the stress-responsive hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. In general, addiction and withdrawal are associated with abnormal HPA responsivity as demonstrated by baseline, dexamethasone, and metyrapone testing. Following stabilization in methadone maintenance treatment, normalization of HPA axis responsivity is observed. To further investigate HPA axis function associated with heroin addiction and its treatment, saline placebo and human corticotropin-releasing factor (hCRF) were administered intravenously in two doses, one dose lower (0.5 microg/kg) and one dose higher (2.0 microg/kg) than the dose used in standard clinical diagnostics (100 microg), to 16 normal male volunteer controls (NV) and eight male stable-dose methadone-maintained former heroin addicts without ongoing drug or alcohol abuse or dependence (MM). Plasma adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH) and cortisol levels were determined at serial time points. There was no difference in hormonal measurements between the two groups following placebo. NV as well as MM displayed a dose-response effect in plasma ACTH and cortisol levels. MM displayed a significantly greater increase in plasma ACTH levels than the NV following high-dose but not low-dose hCRF (p <0.05). There was no significant difference in plasma cortisol levels between the two groups following high-dose hCRF. Thus, despite earlier documented normalization of behavioral function and of several measures of neuroendocrine function during long-term methadone maintenance, some abnormalities in HPA axis responsivity that may be a consequence of heroin exposure, or that may have existed prior to the addiction, can persist during stable methadone treatment.

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