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Neurobiol Learn Mem. 2006 Jul;86(1):28-34. Epub 2006 Feb 3.

Effect of two prednisone exposures on mood and declarative memory.

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Department of Psychiatry, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, TX 75390-8849, USA.


Corticosteroids are essential for life and an integral part of the stress response. However, in excess, corticosteroids can be associated with a variety of effects on the brain including hippocampal atrophy and even neuronal death, mood changes, and declarative memory impairment. The magnitude of mood change in patients receiving prednisone is reportedly associated with previous lifetime corticosteroid exposure, consistent with a sensitization or kindling process whereby greater effects are observed with repeated exposure. To our knowledge, the effect of multiple corticosteroid exposures on mood and memory has not been previously examined prospectively in animals or humans. In this study, 30 human volunteers, with no history of systemic prescription corticosteroid therapy, were given (in random order using a crossover design) two 3-day exposures of prednisone (60 mg/day) and one of identical placebo, with 11-day washouts between each medication exposure. Before and after each 3-day prednisone/placebo exposure, declarative memory was assessed using different versions of the Rey Auditory Verbal Learning Test (RAVLT) to minimize practice or learning effects, while mood was assessed with the 21-item Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression, Young Mania Rating Scale and Internal State Scale. No significant mood changes were found. However, a significant decrease in aspects of RAVLT performance was observed after the first prednisone exposure consistent with a decline in declarative memory performance. The decline in RAVLT performance was significantly smaller after the second prednisone exposure as compared to the initial prednisone exposure. Thus, a second prednisone exposure was associated with an attenuated prednisone-effect on declarative memory. These data suggest tolerance or habituation, rather than sensitization, to prednisone effects on declarative memory during a second exposure. Implications and possible explanations for the findings are discussed.

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