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Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1998 Nov;55(11):995-1000.

Dose-dependent cortisol-induced increases in plasma leptin concentration in healthy humans.

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Department of Psychiatry, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO 63110, USA.



Leptin is a hormone that regulates fat metabolism and appetite. The secretion of leptin is regulated by adiposity and, in the rodent, by factors such as insulin, beta-adrenergic agonists, and glucocorticoids (GCs). Increased secretion of the endogenous human GC, cortisol, occurs during stress and in disorders such as major depression. Pharmacological GCs can robustly increase plasma leptin concentrations in humans, leading us to hypothesize that cortisol may serve as a physiological regulator of human leptin secretion.


A randomized double-blind placebo-controlled comparison of 2 fixed oral dosages of cortisol (40 mg/d and 160 mg/d), given for 4 days to matched groups of healthy subjects (n=47). Low-dose treatment approximated GC output during mild stress, while high-dose treatment approximated GC output during maximal stress, spanning a range of GC secretion relevant to physiological stress.


Cortisol produced dose-dependent and time-dependent increases in plasma leptin concentrations (time x treatment condition x body mass index; F6,123=10.73; P<.001). Initial treatment-induced increases in plasma leptin concentration returned toward baseline values during 4 treatment days, suggesting tolerance to this GC effect in these healthy subjects.


The results indicate an important role for GCs in the short-term regulation of human leptin secretion. Glucocorticoid-induced increases in leptin secretion suggest a mechanism that may contribute to anorexia and weight loss during stress and disease states such as major depression, if these conditions are associated with sustained increases in plasma leptin concentrations.

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