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Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis dysfunction in mood disorders is one of the most robust findings in biological psychiatry. However, considerable debate surrounds the nature of the core abnormality, its cause, consequences and treatment implications.
To review the evidence for the role of HPA axis dysfunction in the pathophysiology of mood disorders with particular reference to corticosteroid receptor pathology.
A selective review of the published literature in this field, focusing on human studies.
The nature of basal HPA axis dysregulation described in both manic and depressed bipolars appears to be similar to those described in MDD. But studies using the dexamethasone/ corticotropin releasing hormone (dex/CRH) test and dexamethasone suppression test (DST) have shown that HPA axis dysfunction is more prevalent in bipolar than in unipolar disorder. There is robust evidence for corticotropin releasing hormone (CRH) hyperdrive and glucocorticoid receptor (GR) dysfunction in mood disorders, with increasing evidence for disorders within the AVP system.
HPA axis dysfunction is prevalent in patients with mood disorder, particularly those with psychotic disorders and bipolar affective disorder. This may be secondary to genetic factors, early life adversities or both. Dysfunction of GR may be the underlying abnormality and preliminary findings suggest that it is a potential target for novel therapies.