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Drug News Perspect. 2006 Dec;19(10):603-8.

The effects of antidepressants on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis.

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Institute of Psychiatry King's College London, London, UK.


Hyperactivity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis has been found in some psychiatric disorders, especially in older patients with severe depression. Altered feedback inhibition, as demonstrated by increased circulating cortisol and nonsuppresssion of cortisol following administration of dexamethasone, may be to blame. Two glucocorticoid receptors control the HPA axis, the mineralocorticoid receptor (MR) and the glucocorticoid receptor (GR). MR regulates normal HPA fluctuations and the GR regulates in times of stress. Long-term antidepressant treatment in humans has been shown to upregulate both GR and MR in the brain, whereas short-term treatment has been shown to downregulate GR and MR. After 6-9 weeks of treatment GR function returns to normal, and the MR stays upregulated. Chronic antidepressant treatment in rodents has been shown to reduce HPA activity, even in the absence of GR or MR upregulation. These effects of antidepressants on HPA regulation may be attributed in part to regulation of the multidrug resistance protein transporter, P-glycoprotein. Finding relationships between antidepressant action and HPA regulation leads to the conclusion that the disruption of the HPA may be more a contributing factor to depression than other biological abnormalities.

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