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Int J Psychophysiol. 2009 Apr;72(1):74-80. doi: 10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2008.03.010. Epub 2008 Sep 13.

Effects of cortisol on emotional but not on neutral memory are correlated with peripheral glucocorticoid sensitivity of inflammatory cytokine production.

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Department of Psychology, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA 02454, USA.


Cortisol responses to stress have important physiological effects on several target tissues throughout the body, including the central nervous system and the immune system. The ability of target tissues to receive cortisol signals has been shown to vary between individuals and over time. Conflicting data exist on whether different target tissues' glucocorticoid (GC) sensitivity is related. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled design, n=19 participants (n=15 men, n=4 women) received an oral dose of 30 mg of cortisol and placebo in randomized order. Memory retrieval of previously learned neutral and emotional words was tested after cortisol or placebo application. Peripheral GC sensitivity was tested by measuring in-vitro stimulated production of interleukin-6 (IL-6) in whole blood before and after cortisol vs. placebo application. Cortisol treatment reduced retrieval of neutral and emotional words (marginally significant at p=0.07), and significantly reduced stimulated IL-6 production (p<0.001). Relative suppression of IL-6 production was associated with impairment of memory retrieval of emotional (r=0.48; p=0.039), but not neutral words (r=-0.17; p=0.48). In summary, results show an association of peripheral glucocorticoid sensitivity with emotional, but not neutral, memory retrieval. Given that these findings can be extended to clinical populations, the association of peripheral glucocorticoid sensitivity with emotional memory retrieval might have important implications for understanding and treatment of stress-related disorders.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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