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J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol. 2017 Sep;31(9):1555-1561. doi: 10.1111/jdv.14346. Epub 2017 Jun 14.

Alopecia areata - hyperactivity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis is a myth?

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Department of Dermatology, School of Medicine in Katowice, Medical University of Silesia in Katowice, Katowice, Poland.
Department of Dermatology, Andrzej Mielęcki Silesian Independent Public Clinic in Katowice, Katowice, Poland.



Psychological stress is known to cause exacerbation of different skin pathologies including alopecia areata (AA). A hyperactivity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (the HPA axis) in patients affected by AA (AA patients) was proposed to be a neuroendocrine response to stress. Still little is known about melanocyte-stimulating hormone (MSH) and cortisol production in AA settings.


The aim of the study was to compare trends in a production of MSH and cortisol in patients with AA patients and healthy controls.


Plasma concentrations of free cortisol and MSH were measured in 43 AA patients (35.5 ± 10.6 years) and 37 healthy subjects (35.9 ± 10.5 years) selected from the Dermatology Outpatient Clinic at Medical University of Silesia in Katowice, Poland. Results were submitted to statistical analysis with Shapiro-Wilk W-test and subsequently nonparametric (Mann-Whitney U-test) or parametric (Student's t-test) statistics were performed.


Mean plasma level of MSH was 5.39 ng/mL in AA patients and 5.71 ng/mL in healthy controls. The difference between groups was non-significant (P = 0.435), but the control group manifested higher values of MSH (Q75 = 13.6 ng/mL vs Q75 = 5.98 ng/mL) and this tendency was especially stronger in females. AA patients had greater mean plasma level of cortisol (157.63 ± 91.16 µg/L) than healthy controls (123.32 ± 71.28 µg/L); however, the difference between them was also non-significant (P = 0.063). No sex-dependent tendency to a greater production of cortisol was found.


Expectations of disturbances in production of MSH and cortisol were not fulfilled. Neither MSH nor cortisol plasma levels appear to be clearly changed in AA patients.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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