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Neuropsychopharmacology. 2005 Jun;30(6):1181-6.

Plasma concentrations of neuroactive steroids before and after electroconvulsive therapy in major depression.

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Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Ludwig-Maximilian-University of Munich, Munich, Germany.


There is evidence that both cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) and plasma concentrations of 3alpha-reduced neuroactive steroids are decreased in major depressive disorder. Successful antidepressant pharmacotherapy, for example, with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), over several weeks is accompanied by an increase in CSF and plasma concentrations of these neuroactive steroids. However, no such increase has been observed during nonpharmacological treatments such as partial sleep deprivation or repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation. In order to investigate whether concentration changes in neuroactive steroids are an important component of clinically effective antidepressant treatment, we examined plasma concentrations of the neuroactive steroids 3alpha,5alpha-tetrahydroprogesterone, 3alpha,5beta-tetrahydroprogesterone, 3beta,5alpha-tetrahydroprogesterone, and their precursors progesterone, 5alpha-dihydroprogesterone, and 5beta-dihydroprogesterone in 31 pharmacotherapy-resistant depressed in-patients before and after unilateral electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) as a monotherapy over 4 weeks. Samples were quantified for neuroactive steroids by means of a highly sensitive and specific combined gas chromatography/mass spectrometry analysis. In all, 51.6% of the patients were treatment responders. There was no influence of ECT on the plasma concentrations of any neuroactive steroid studied. Moreover, neuroactive steroid levels did not differ between treatment responders and nonresponders. Our study shows that changes in neuroactive steroid plasma levels are not a mandatory factor for successful antidepressant treatment by ECT. Thus, the previously observed changes in plasma concentrations of neuroactive steroids following treatment with antidepressants such as SSRIs more likely reflect distinct pharmacological properties of these compounds rather than clinical improvement.

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