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Neuropsychopharmacology. 1998 Apr;18(4):253-62.

Hormonal response pattern in the combined DEX-CRH test is stable over time in subjects at high familial risk for affective disorders.

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  • 1Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry, Munich, Germany.


One of the major neurobiological alterations in depressive disorders consists in a disturbed regulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) system. This is reflected by a pathological increase in the adrenocorticotropin (ACTH) and cortisol release after pretreatment with 1.5 mg dexamethasone (DEX) the previous night and a challenge with 100 micrograms corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) the next day. The changes evoked by this combined DEX-CRH test recede partially with an improvement of the psychopathological symptoms of depressed patients. It is still unclear, however, whether this long-lasting disturbance of the HPA system is due to acquired changes in the acute illness or whether it plays a causal role and could be considered as a trait or vulnerability marker for depression. In a previous study we have examined the HPA function of healthy probands with a high genetic load for affective disorders. We found that this group of high-risk probands (HRPs) showed abnormal DEX-CRH test results with a cortisol release that was between that of a control group and a group of patients with depression. In a follow-up study we now reexamined 14 of the 47 HRPs about 4 years after the index investigation and found surprisingly constant DEX-CRH test results, so that one of the requirements for a vulnerability marker is fulfilled.

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