Rapid and accurate risk stratification in patients with community-acquired pneumonia (CAP) is an unmet clinical need. Cortisol to dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) ratio was put forward as a prognostic marker in sepsis. We herein validated the prognostic value of the adrenal hormones DHEA, DHEA-Sulfate (DHEAS), cortisol/DHEA-, cortisol/DHEAS- and DHEA/DHEAS – ratios in patients with CAP.
We assessed severity of illness using the pneumonia severity index (PSI) and measured adrenal hormone concentrations in 179 serum samples of prospectively recruited patients hospitalized with CAP. We calculated spearman rank correlation, logistic regression analysis and Kaplan Meier curves to study associations of adrenal hormones and outcomes.
There was a significant correlation between PSI score and total cortisol (r = 0.24, p = 0.001), DHEAS (r = −0.23, p = 0.002), cortisol/DHEA (r = 0.23, p = 0.003), cortisol/DHEAS (r = 0.32, p = <0.0001) and DHEA/DHEAS (r = 0.20, p = 0.009). In age and gender adjusted logistic regression analysis, cortisol (OR: 2.8, 95% CI: 1.48–5.28) and DHEA (OR: 2.62, 95% CI: 1.28–5.34), but not DHEAS and the different ratios were associated with all-cause mortality. The discriminatory accuracy of cortisol and DHEA in ROC analysis (area under the curve) was 0.74 and 0.61. In Kaplan Meier analysis, patients in the highest deciles of cortisol and DHEA (p = 0.005 and p = 0.015), and to a lesser extent of cortisol/DHEAS ratio (p = 0.081) had a higher risk of death.
Cortisol, DHEAS and their ratios correlate with CAP severity, and cortisol and DHEA predict mortality. Adrenal function in severe pneumonia may be an important factor for CAP outcomes.
The debilitating effects of chronic glucocorticoids excess are well-known, but comparatively little is understood about the role of acute cortisol. Indirect evidence in rodents suggests that acute cortisone could selectively increase some forms of long-duration aversive states, such as “anxiety,” but not relatively similar, briefer aversive states, such as “fear.” However, no prior experimental studies in humans consider the unique effects of cortisol on anxiety and fear, using well-validated methods for eliciting these two similar but dissociable aversive states. The current study examines these effects, as instantiated with short- and long-duration threats.
Healthy volunteers (n = 18) received placebo or a low (20 mg) or a high (60 mg) dose of hydrocortisone in a double-blind crossover design. Subjects were exposed repeatedly to three 150-sec duration conditions: no shock; predictable shocks, in which shocks were signaled by a short-duration threat cue; and unpredictable shocks. Aversive states were indexed by acoustic startle. Fear was operationally defined as the increase in startle reactivity during the threat cue in the predictable condition (fear-potentiated startle). Anxiety was operationally defined as the increase in baseline startle from the no shock to the two threat conditions (anxiety-potentiated startle).
Hydrocortisone affected neither baseline nor short-duration, fear-potentiated startle but increased long-duration anxiety-potentiated startle.
These results suggest that hydrocortisone administration in humans selectively increases anxiety but not fear. Possible mechanisms implicated are discussed in light of prior data in rodents. Specifically, hydrocortisone might increase anxiety via sensitization of corticotrophin-releasing hormones in the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis.
Amygdala; anxiety; BNST; corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH); cortisol; fear; predictability; startle reflex
A central problem in posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is the inability to suppress fear under safe conditions. We have previously shown that PTSD patients cannot inhibit conditioned fear. Another relevant finding in PTSD is the hypersensitivity of the hypothalamic-pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis feedback. Given their common neurobiological pathways, alterations in HPA function in PTSD may be associated with impaired fear inhibition. The present study examined the relationship between HPA axis function and fear-potentiated startle and inhibition of conditioned fear in trauma-exposed individuals. We used a conditional discrimination procedure (AX+/BX−), in which one set of shapes (AX+) was paired with aversive airblasts to the throat (danger signal), and the same X shape with a different shape (BX−) were presented without airblasts (safety signal). The paradigm also included a transfer of fear inhibition test (AB). In addition to fear-potentiated startle, blood was drawn for neuroendocrine analysis and the dexamethasone suppression test (DEX) was performed; cortisol and ACTH were assessed at baseline and post-DEX. Ninety highly traumatized individuals recruited from Grady Hospital in Atlanta, GA participated in the study. The sample was divided into those who met DSM-IV criteria for PTSD (n=29) and Non-PTSD controls (n=61) using the PTSD symptom scale (PSS). Both groups showed significant reduction in cortisol and ACTH levels after DEX. Subjects with PTSD had higher fear-potentiated startle to the safety signal, BX− (F(1,88)=4.44, p<0.05) and fear inhibition trials, AB (F(1,88)=5.20, p<0.05), both indicative of less fear inhibition in the presence of B, compared to control subjects. In addition, fear-potentiated startle to AX+, BX−, and AB was positively correlated with baseline and post-DEX ACTH in PTSD subjects. These results suggest that impaired fear inhibition and associated alterations in HPA feedback may reflect amygdala hyperactivity in subjects with PTSD.
PTSD; Trauma; Physiology; Startle Response; HPA; Cortisol
Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and its sulphate (DHEAS) are pleiotropic adrenal hormones with immunostimulating and antiglucocorticoid effects. The present study was conducted to evaluate the time course of DHEAS levels in critically ill patients and to study their association with the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis.
Materials and method
This was a prospective observational clinical and laboratory study, including 30 patients with septic shock, eight patients with multiple trauma, and 40 age- and sex-matched control patients. We took serial measurements of blood concentrations of DHEAS, cortisol, tumour necrosis factor-α and IL-6, and of adrenocorticotrophic hormone immunoreactivity over 14 days or until discharge/death.
On admission, DHEAS was extremely low in septic shock (1.2 ± 0.8 mol/l) in comparison with multiple trauma patients (2.4 ± 0.5 μmol/l; P < 0.05) and control patients (4.2 ± 1.8; P < 0.01). DHEAS had a significant (P < 0.01) negative correlation with age, IL-6 and Acute Physiology and Chronic Health Evaluation II scores in both patient groups. Only during the acute phase did DHEAS negatively correlate with dopamine. Nonsurvivors of septic shock (n = 11) had lower DHEAS levels (0.4 ± 0.3 μmol/l) than did survivors (1.7 ± 1.1 μmol/l; P < 0.01). The time course of DHEAS exhibited a persistent depletion during follow up, whereas cortisol levels were increased at all time points.
We identified extremely low DHEAS levels in septic shock and, to a lesser degree, in multiple trauma patients as compared with those of age- and sex-matched control patients. There appeared to be a dissociation between DHEAS (decreased) and cortisol (increased) levels, which changed only slightly over time. Nonsurvivors of sepsis and patients with relative adrenal insufficiency had the lowest DHEAS values, suggesting that DHEAS might be a prognostic marker and a sign of exhausted adrenal reserve in critical illness.
adrenal insufficiency; dehydroepiandrosterone sulphate; multiple trauma; hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis; sepsis
It is well established that there is mutual interaction between the neuroendocrines and immune systems and that the disturbance in any one system could affect the function of the other. While there is a large body of evidence suggesting negative impact of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 B (HIV-1B) infection on both immune and neuroendocrine systems, the consequence of HIV-1 clade C infection (with structural differences from HIV-1B virus) on these systems is not clearly understood.
We carried out a 2-y longitudinal study on plasma profile of adrenocorticosteroids, including cortisol and DHEAS and their relationship with declining CD4+ cell counts in neurologically asymptomatic HIV-C infected individuals (N=84) in order to understand the impact of HIV-1 clade C infection on adrenocortical dysfunction and its relationship with the progressive decline in the cell mediated immunity.
We found that while plasma cortisol levels increased significantly at baseline in HIV-1C infected individuals compared to those in HIV-negative controls (HIV-1C+, 9.83±0.39 vs. controls, 8.04±0.45; p< 0.01), there was a significant decrease in DHEAS in HIV-1C+ individuals, compared to that in HIV-negative controls (81.02 ± 4.9 vs. 185.1±12.03, p< 0.001), and consequently a significant increase in cortisol:DHEAS (Cortisol:DHEAS) ratio in HIV-1 clade C infected persons (0.19±0.002 vs. control 0.058±0.006; p<.0.001). Moreover, in HIV-1 C infected individuals, there was a strong positive correlation between DHEAS and CD4 cells (r=0.2; p<0.05), and a strong negative correlation between cortisol, as well as Cortisol:DHEAS ratio and CD4 cells (r= −0.25; p<0.01; and r= −0.31; p<0.001, respectively).
These findings suggest the persistent and progressive adrenocorical dysfunction during the asymptomatic phase of HIV infection, and that the evaluation of increase in plasma cortisol, a decrease in DHEAS, and an increase in Cortisol:DHEAS ratio may serve as important biomarkers preceding the impending down regulation of CD4 cell counts and progressive decline in the immune system function in HIV-1C infection. Furthermore, these findings may indicate the dysregulation of 3β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase (3β-HSD) activity, the enzyme involved in the biosynthesis of cortisol and DHEA through the pregnenolone-progesterone pathway, and that it may offer an opportunity for drug discovery targeting re-regulation of 3β-HSD activity for potential therapeutic application in HIV-1 C infection.
HIV-1; Clade C; Cortisol; Cortisol:DHEAS (C/D) ratio; DHEAS; CD4 cell count; CD4:CD8 ratio; Body mass index (BMI); HAART
Research has highlighted the need for new methods to assess emotions in children on multiple levels in order to gain better insight into the complex processes of emotional development. The startle reflex is a unique translational tool that has been utilized to study physiological processes during fear and anxiety in rodents and in human subjects. However, it has been challenging to implement developmentally-appropriate startle experiments in children. This paper describes a procedure that uses predictable and unpredictable aversive events to distinguish between phasic fear and sustained anxiety in children and adolescents. We investigated anxious responses, as measured with the startle reflex, in youth (N = 36, mean age[range] = 12.63 [7–17]) across three conditions: no aversive events (N), predictable aversive events (P), and unpredictable aversive events (U). Short-duration cues were presented several times in each condition. Aversive events were signaled by the cues in P, but were presented randomly in U. Participants showed fear-potentiated startle to the threat cue in P. Startle responses were also elevated between cues in U compared to N, suggesting that unpredictable aversive events can evoke a sustained state of anxiety in youth. This latter effect was influenced by sex, being greater in girls compared to boys. These findings indicate the feasibility of this experimental induction of the startle reflex in response to predictable and unpredictable events in children and adolescents, enabling future research on inter-individual differences in fear and anxiety and their development in youth.
fear; anxiety; unpredictability; psychophysiology; startle reflex; sex differences
The cortisol/DHEA(S) ratio has demonstrated utility in studies of HPA activity and psychopathology. However, use of the cortisol/DHEA(S) ratio in adolescent populations requires additional consideration of differential changes in DHEA(S) and cortisol during the course of puberty. This study examines the relationship between pubertal status and individual cortisol and DHEAS levels as well as with the cortisol/DHEAS ratio.
Morning salivary cortisol and urinary DHEAS levels were obtained for 267 young adolescents at three time points, each approximately one year apart. Growth curve modeling and repeated measures ANOVA were used to assess the effect of adrenal development on individual hormone levels and on the total ratio.
Pubic hair development was a significant predictor of change over time in DHEAS but not cortisol. Development was also a significant predictor of the cortisol/DHEAS ratio when raw cortisol and DHEAS values were used.
Our findings indicate that, when DHEAS levels were adjusted to control for pubertal status, the ratio demonstrated stability over time. This finding is in line with the hypothesis that the ratio may tap stable individual differences in HPA functioning.
Cortisol; DHEA; DHEAS; ratio; HPA axis; adolescent; puberty; adrenarche
Many studies have investigated the relationship between blood levels of dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and its sulfate ester (DHEA-S), cortisol, progesterone, and testosterone and the onset, prognosis, symptom severity, and treatment response of schizophrenia. In the present study, we assessed potential differences in blood levels of neurosteroids between drug-naïve first-episode patients with schizophrenia (FES), and drug-free patients with schizophrenia who were not in the first episode but were in a phase of acute exacerbation (DFP).
Materials and methods
The present study included 32 male FES, 28 male DFP, and 24 male healthy controls (HC). Groups were compared in terms of blood levels of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), cortisol, testosterone, progesterone, and DHEA-S.
Blood levels of ACTH, cortisol, testosterone, and progesterone were similar among the groups. The mean value of serum DHEA-S was significantly different among the groups (P<0.001). The value of serum DHEA-S was higher in the FES group than in the DFP and HC groups (both P<0.001). The mean values of serum DHEA-S in the HC and DFP groups were found to be similar (P=0.33).
We suggest that higher values of DHEA-S in the FES group compared with both the DFP and HC groups indicate that this neurosteroid response is unique to first-episode schizophrenia patients. Further studies are needed to investigate the difference in blood levels of neurosteroids in different groups in terms of age of diagnosis.
neurosteroid; effect; psychosis
Thalassemia major patients with repeated blood transfusion have high prevalence of endocrinopathies due to iron overload.
Materials and Methods:
We examined the adrenocortical function in 23 thalassemic patients (10 children and 13 young adults) aged 8-26 years. Serum cortisol and dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEA-S) concentrations were determined in each subject before blood transfusion both in basal condition and after low dose (LD) (1 μg), followed by standard dose (SD) (250 μg, respectively) with synthetic corticotrophin beta 1-24 ACTH (Synacthen, Ciba). Normal controls were a group of 13 age- and sex-matched normal subjects.
Using a peak total cortisol cutoff level of 550 nmol/L and increments of 200 μg above basal cortisol, adrenal insufficiency (AI) was demonstrated in 8 patients (34.7%) after the LD ACTH and in 2 patients (8.7%) after SD cosyntropin (ACTH) test, but none of the controls. Using a peak total cortisol cutoff level of 420 nmol/L and increments of 200 μg above basal cortisol, AI was demonstrated in 5 patients (21.7%) after the LD ACTH and in 2 patients after SD ACTH test (8.7%), but none of controls. All patients with biochemical AI were asymptomatic with normal serum sodium and potassium concentrations and had no history suggestive of adrenal pathology. The peak cortisol concentrations in thalassemic patients with impaired adrenal function both after 1 μg and 250 μg cosyntropin (294 ± 51 nmol/L and 307 ± 58.6) were significantly lower than those with patients with normal (454 ± 79.7 nmol/L and 546.1 ± 92.2 nmol/L, respectively) and controls (460.2 ± 133.4 nmol/L and 554.3 ± 165.8 nmol/L, respectively). Adolescents and young adults, but not children with thalassaemia, had significantly lower peak cortisol concentration after SD ACTH versus controls. Peak cortisol response to LD ACTH was correlated significantly with peak cortisol response to SD in all patients (r = 0.83, P < 0.0001). In adolescents and young adults with thalassemia, DHEA-S levels before and after LD ACTH stimulation were significantly lower and the cortisol/DHEA-S ratios were significantly higher than the controls.
The use of LD ACTH test diagnoses more adrenal abnormalities versus SD ACTH in thalassemic patients. The relatively high prevalence of AI in thalassemic adolescents and young adults necessitates that these patients have to be investigated for AI before major surgery and those with impaired cortisol secretion should receive stress doses of corticosteroids during the stressful event.
Cortisol; dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate; low dose adrenocorticotropic hormone test; standard dose adrenocorticotropic hormone test; thalassemia
Stress and anxiety are commonly thought to be detrimental to sexual function. Several studies in both the human and animal literature, however, have found that inducing anxiety can enhance sexual function in women. The mechanisms that explain a negative relationship between physical and psychological stress and sexual functioning are well documented, but little is known about how stress or anxiety might have a facilitatory effect on sexual arousal. As an initial step in exploring the relationship between anxiety and sexual arousal, the present study examined the role of the autonomic nervous system, and the adrenal hormones cortisol and dehydroepiandrosterone-sulfate (DHEA-S) in response to a sexual film, an anxiety-inducing film, and a humorous film. Nineteen premenopausal women (mean age 24.4 years) who were free from sexual difficulties came into the lab on three separate days. At each session they were shown an anxiety-inducing, sexually arousing, or humorous (control) film while their physiological arousal was measured. They also provided saliva samples before and after each film. Cortisol significantly decreased, while DHEA-S increased in the sexual and humorous conditions. Neither hormone changed significantly in the anxiety-inducing condition. Autonomic nervous system activity measured by heart rate and heart rate variability did not change in response to the sexual or anxiety-inducing films, but heart rate variability increased significantly in response to the humorous film. The cortisol/DHEA-S ratio at the post-sexual film time point was significantly negatively correlated with genital arousal (measured by vaginal pulse amplitude). Anxiety-inducing films did not result in a physiological stress response, which can explain why they do not impair sexual function.
Cortisol; Dehydroepiandrosterone-sulfate; Human sexuality; Stress; Anxiety; Arousal; Humor
Tuberculosis (TB) remains the most frequent cause of illness and death from an infectious agent, and its interaction with HIV has devastating effects. We determined plasma levels of dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), its circulating form DHEA-suphate (DHEA-s) and cortisol in different stages of M. tuberculosis infection, and explored their role on the Th1 and Treg populations during different scenarios of HIV-TB coinfection, including the immune reconstitution inflammatory syndrome (IRIS), a condition related to antiretroviral treatment. DHEA levels were diminished in HIV-TB and HIV-TB IRIS patients compared to healthy donors (HD), HIV+ individuals and HIV+ individuals with latent TB (HIV-LTB), whereas dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEA-s) levels were markedly diminished in HIV-TB IRIS individuals. HIV-TB and IRIS patients presented a cortisol/DHEA ratio significantly higher than HIV+, HIV-LTB and HD individuals. A positive correlation was observed between DHEA-s and CD4 count among HIV-TB individuals. Conversely, cortisol plasma level inversely correlated with CD4 count within HIV-TB individuals. M. tuberculosis-specific Th1 lymphocyte count was increased after culturing PBMC from HIV-TB individuals in presence of DHEA. We observed an inverse correlation between DHEA-s plasma level and Treg frequency in co-infected individuals, and CD4+FoxP3+ Treg frequency was increased in HIV-TB and IRIS patients compared to other groups. Strikingly, we observed a prominent CD4+CD25-FoxP3+ population across HIV-TB and HIV-TB IRIS patients, which frequency correlated with DHEA plasma level. Finally, DHEA treatment negatively regulated FoxP3 expression without altering Treg frequency in co-infected patients. These data suggest an enhancing role for DHEA in the immune response against M. tuberculosis during HIV-TB coinfection and IRIS.
Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is associated with increased smoking initiation, maintenance and relapse. Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and DHEA sulfate (DHEAS) are neurosteroids that have been associated with mood measures as well as smoking status, and nicotine is associated with increased DHEA and DHEAS levels. Given the difficulties with mood experienced by smokers with PTSD, the purpose of the current study was to evaluate the association between negative affect and anxiety sensitivity with DHEA and DHEAS levels. Ninety-six smokers with and without PTSD provided blood samples for neurosteroid analyses, and completed self-report measures of anxiety sensitivity and electronic diary ratings of negative affect. As expected, PTSD smokers reported higher levels of anxiety sensitivity (F[1,94]=20.67, partial η2= 0.18, p<.0001) and negative affect (F[1,91]=7.98, partial η2= .08, p=.006). After accounting for age and gender, DHEAS was significantly inversely associated with both anxiety sensitivity (F[3,92]=6.97, partial η2= 0.07, p=.01) and negative affect (F[3,87]=10.52, partial η2= 0.11, p=.002) across groups. Effect sizes indicated that these effects are moderate to high. No significant interactions of diagnosis and DHEA(S) levels with mood measures were detected. Given that nicotine is known to elevate DHEA(S) levels, these results suggest that DHEAS may serve as a biomarker of the association between mood and nicotine among smokers. Implications for the results include 1) the use of DHEAS measurement across time and across quit attempts; and 2) the potential for careful use of DHEA supplementation to facilitate abstinence during smoking cessation.
Background: In rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), patients demonstrate low levels of adrenal hormones.
Objective: To investigate whether increased renal clearance and daily excretion contribute to this phenomenon.
Methods: Thirty patients with RA, 32 with SLE, and 54 healthy subjects (HS) participated. Serum and urinary levels of cortisol, cortisone, 17-hydroxyprogesterone (17OHP), androstenedione, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), and DHEA sulphate (DHEAS) were measured.
Results: Clearance of DHEAS and DHEA was lower in patients than in HS, and clearance of androstenedione was somewhat higher in patients than in HS, but daily excretion of this latter hormone was low. Clearance of cortisol, cortisone, and 17OHP was similar between the groups. The total molar amount per hour of excreted DHEA, DHEAS, and androstenedione was lower in patients than HS (but similar for cortisol). Serum DHEAS levels correlated with urinary DHEAS levels in HS and patients, whereby HS excreted 5–10 times more of this hormone than excreted by patients. Low serum levels of adrenal androgens and cortisol in patients as compared with HS were confirmed, and proteinuria was not associated with changes of measured renal parameters.
Conclusions: This study in patients with RA and SLE demonstrates that low serum levels of adrenal androgens and cortisol are not due to increased renal clearance and daily loss of these hormones. Decreased adrenal production or increased conversion or conjugation to downstream hormones are the most likely causes of inadequately low serum levels of adrenal hormones in RA and SLE.
Abnormalities in both cortisol and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) have been reported in psychiatric disorders. Analysis of saliva, urine and blood cortisol and DHEA levels provides an index of hormone levels over a short time period. Unlike such conventional measures, fingernails incorporate endogenous hormones that passively diffuse to the nail matrix from capillaries during keratinization. This study piloted the measurement of cortisol and DHEA levels in fingernails as a potential measure of their accumulated secretion of steroid hormones over a prolonged time period.
Thirty-three university students (18–24 years) provided fingernail samples on two occasions over a school semester. The visits were scheduled so nail cortisol and DHEA levels were collected from periods when students might be under different levels of stress.
During the putatively stressful period, the nail samples showed a significant increase in the cortisol: DHEA ratio (P = 0.0002) due to a significant decrease in the DHEA levels (P = 0.004) and a numerical but not statistically significant increase in the cortisol levels (P = 0.256).
This pilot study showed that nails can be used to measure cortisol and DHEA, a measure which may reflect environmental stress. More work is required to further validate this technique which may prove useful in studies of both healthy individuals and patient groups.
stress; nails; cortisol; DHEA
Dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEAS) has been proposed as an antiaging hormone, but its importance is unclear. Assessment of an individual’s ability to maintain a DHEAS set point, through examination of multiple DHEAS levels over time, may provide insight into biologic aging.
Using Cox proportional hazard models, we examined the relationship between DHEAS trajectory patterns and all-cause death in 950 individuals aged ≥65 years who were enrolled in the Cardiovascular Health Study and had DHEAS levels measured at three to six time points.
Overall, there was a slight decline in DHEAS levels over time (−0.013 μg/mL/y). Three trajectory components were examined: slope, variability, and baseline DHEAS. When examined individually, a steep decline or extreme variability in DHEAS levels was associated with higher mortality (p < .001 for each), whereas baseline DHEAS level was not. In adjusted models including all three components, steep decline (hazard ratio [HR] 1.75, confidence interval [CI] 1.32–2.33) and extreme variability (HR 1.89, CI 1.47–2.43) remained significant predictors of mortality, whereas baseline DHEAS level remained unpredictive of mortality (HR 0.97 per standard deviation, CI 0.88–1.07). The effect of trajectory pattern was more pronounced in men than in women. Individuals with both a steep decline and extreme variability in DHEAS levels had a significantly higher death rate than those with neither pattern (141 vs 48 deaths per 1,000 person-years, p < .001).
Our data show significant heterogeneity in the individual trajectories of DHEAS levels and suggest that these trajectories provide important biologic information about the rate of aging, whereas the DHEAS level itself does not.
DHEA; DHEAS; Mortality; Aging; Elderly
Stress has well-known effects on adrenal glucocorticoid secretion, and chronic elevation of glucocorticoids can have detrimental effects on the brain. Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), an androgen precursor synthesized in the adrenal glands or the brain itself, has anti-glucocorticoid properties, but little is known about the role of DHEA in the stress response, particularly in the brain. Here, we measured the effects of acute restraint on circulating corticosterone (CORT) and DHEA levels in wild song sparrows. Blood was collected from either the brachial or jugular vein. In songbirds, jugular plasma is enriched with neurally synthesized steroids, and therefore, jugular plasma is an indirect index of the neural steroidal milieu. Subjects were sampled during four times of year: breeding, molt, early nonbreeding, and mid-nonbreeding. Baseline CORT and DHEA levels showed similar seasonal changes; both steroids were elevated during the breeding season. Baseline CORT and DHEA levels were similar in jugular and brachial plasma. Acute stress had robust effects on CORT and DHEA that were season specific and vein specific. For CORT, during the molt, stress increased jugular CORT more than brachial CORT. For DHEA, during the breeding season, stress decreased jugular DHEA but not brachial DHEA. During the molt, stress increased jugular DHEA but not brachial DHEA. Acute stress did not affect brachial DHEA. These data suggest that acute stress specifically affects the balance between DHEA synthesis and metabolism in the brain. Furthermore, these results suggest that CORT and DHEA are locally synthesized in the brain during molt, when systemic levels of CORT and DHEA are low.
PMID: 18276756 CAMSID: cams343
Mental fatigue, cognitive disorders, and sleep disturbances seen in chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) may be attributed to cholinergic deficit. A functional deficiency of cholinergic neurotransmission may cause the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis hypoactivity seen in CFS. Therefore, we investigated the alterations in stress hormones such as cortisol and dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEAS) in CFS patients before and after 4-week administration of galantamine hydrobromide, a selective acetylcholinesterase inhibitor, and aimed to investigate whether there are any relationships between the probable hormonal changes and cholinergic treatment.
Basal levels of cortisol and DHEAS were measured in 29 untreated CFS patients who were diagnosed according to Centers for Disease Control (CDC) criteria and in 20 healthy controls. In the patient group, four weeks after 8 mg/d galantamine hydrobromide treatment, cortisol and DHEAS levels were measured again. After the treatment 22 patients who stayed in study were divided into two subgroups as responders and nonresponders according to the reduction in their Newcastle Research Group ME/CFS Score Card (NRG) scores.
Important findings of this study are lower pre-and post-treatment cortisol levels and in all CFS patients compared to controls (F=4.129, p=0.049; F=4.803, p=0.035, respectively); higher basal DHEAS values and higher DHEAS/cortisol molar ratios which were normalized following four weeks' treatment with 8 mg/d galantamine hydrobromide in the treatment-respondent group (F=5.382, p=0.029; F=5.722, p=0.025, respectively).
The findings of the decrease in basal DHEAS levels and DHEAS/cortisol molar ratios normalizing with galantamine treatment may give some support to the cholinergic deficit hypothesis in CFS.
Chronic fatigue syndrome; Cortisol; Dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate; Galantamine hydrobromide
There has been a great deal of interest in the role of the neuroendocrine hormones of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis on the expression of stress-related psychopathology such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This investigation examined the association of PTSD and childhood maltreatment with three key HPA axis hormones: cortisol, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), and dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEAS). Regression analyses were undertaken on a sample of 43 participants with and 57 participants without PTSD. Results demonstrated that after controlling for age, gender, and PTSD status, exposure to childhood maltreatment was significantly associated with cortisol secretion (F[4,95]=11.68, ΔR2=0.11, p=.0009) and cortisol/DHEA ratio (F[4,95]=6.20, ΔR2=.05, p=.01). PTSD status was not associated with any of these neuroendocrine variables. Findings are discussed in the context of the complexity of the relationship of these neuroendocrine variables with trauma exposure and trauma-related psychopathology. It is suggested that DHEA(S) or cortisol/DHEA(S) ratios may not be biomarkers of specific forms of psychopathology per se, but that instead, the severity and developmental timing of trauma may set the HPA axis in ways that are reflected in interactions among these neuroendocrine hormones. In adulthood, these HPA axis hormones may continue to be dynamically affected by personal and environmental resources.
posttraumatic stress disorder; DHEA; cortisol; child abuse
The purpose of this study was to investigate the effect of prolonged stress on the salivary adrenal hormones (cortisol, dehydroepiandrosterone [DHEA], DHEA-sulfate [DHEA-S]) of individuals with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
The participants were female college students, including 10 with IBS and 16 without IBS (control group), who were scheduled for a 2-week teaching practice at a kindergarten. Participants were asked to collect saliva for determining adrenal hormones immediately and 30 min after awakening and before sleep, 2 weeks before the practice, the first week of the practice, the second week of the practice, and a few days after the practice.
Regarding cortisol/DHEA ratio, significantly increased levels were found during the first week of the practice, and a significant interaction between group and time was found; the ratio at 30 min after awakening in the IBS group was higher than that in the control group. For the other adrenal hormone indexes, no significant differences due to the presence of IBS were found.
Individuals with IBS showed an elevated cortisol/DHEA ratio after awakening compared with individuals without IBS, and the elevated ratio peaked under the prolonged stress. The present study suggests that the cortisol effect is dominant in individuals with IBS under prolonged stress.
Irritable bowel syndrome; Cortisol; Dehydroepiandrosterone; Saliva; Prolonged stress
Intense fear responses observed in trauma-, stressor-, and anxiety-related disorders can be elicited by a wide range of stimuli similar to those that were present during the traumatic event. The present study investigated the experimental utility of fear-potentiated startle paradigms to study this phenomenon, known as stimulus generalization, in healthy volunteers. Fear-potentiated startle refers to a relative increase in the acoustic startle response to a previously neutral stimulus that has been paired with an aversive stimulus. Specifically, in Experiment 1 an auditory pure tone (500 Hz) was used as the conditioned stimulus (CS+) and was reinforced with an unconditioned stimulus (US), an airblast to the larynx. A distinct tone (4000 Hz) was used as the nonreinforced stimulus (CS−) and was never paired with an airblast. Twenty-four hours later subjects underwent Re-training followed by a Generalization test, during which subjects were exposed to a range of generalization stimuli (GS) (250, 1000, 2000, 4000, 8000 Hz). In order to further examine the point at which fear no longer generalizes, a follow-up experiment (Experiment 2) was performed where a 4000 Hz pure tone was used as the CS+, and during the Generalization test, 2000 and 8000 Hz were used as GS. In both Experiment 1 and 2 there was significant discrimination in US expectancy responses on all stimuli during the Generalization Test, indicating the stimuli were perceptually distinct. In Experiment 1, participants showed similar levels of fear-potentiated startle to the GS that were adjacent to the CS+, and discriminated between stimuli that were 2 or more degrees from the CS+. Experiment 2 demonstrated no fear-potentiated startle generalization. The current study is the first to use auditory cues to test generalization of conditioned fear responses; such cues may be especially relevant to combat posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) where much of the traumatic exposure may involve sounds.
startle response; generalization; stimulus; fear conditioning; auditory perception; translational medical research
Though conditioned fear has long been acknowledged as an important etiologic mechanism in social anxiety disorder, past psychophysiological experiments have found no differences in general conditionability among social anxiety patients using generally aversive but socially nonspecific unconditioned stimuli (e.g., unpleasant odors and painful pressure). The authors applied a novel fear conditioning paradigm consisting of socially relevant unconditioned stimuli of critical facial expressions and verbal feedback. This study represents the first effort to assess the conditioning correlates of social anxiety disorder within an ecologically enhanced paradigm.
Subjects with social anxiety disorder and age- and gender-matched healthy comparison subjects underwent differential classical conditioning. Conditioned stimuli included images of three neutral facial expressions, each of which was paired with one of three audiovisual unconditioned stimuli: negative insults with critical faces (USneg), positive compliments with happy faces (USpos), or neutral comments with neutral faces (USneu). The conditioned response was measured as the fear-potentiation of the startle-blink reflex elicited during presentation of the conditioned stimuli.
Only social anxiety subjects demonstrated fear conditioning in response to facial expressions, as the startle-blink reflex was potentiated by the CSneg versus both CSneu and CSpos among those with the disorder, while healthy comparison subjects displayed no evidence of conditioned startle-potentiation. Such group differences in conditioning were independent of levels of anxiety to the unconditioned stimulus, implicating associative processes rather than increased unconditioned stimulus reactivity as the active mechanism underlying enhanced conditioned startle-potentiation among social anxiety subjects.
Results support a conditioning contribution to social anxiety disorder and underscore the importance of disorder-relevant unconditioned stimuli when studying the conditioning correlates of pathologic anxiety.
The normal diurnal cortisol cycle has a peak in the morning, decreasing rapidly over the day, with low levels during the night, then rising rapidly again to the morning peak. A pattern of flatter daytime slopes has been associated with more rapid cancer progression in both animals and humans. We studied the relationship between the daytime slopes and other daytime cortisol responses to both pharmacological and psychosocial challenges of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis function as well as DHEA in a sample of 99 women with metastatic breast cancer, in hopes of elucidating the dysregulatory process.
We found that the different components of HPA regulation: the daytime cortisol slope, the rise in cortisol from waking to 30 minutes later, and cortisol response to various challenges, including dexamethasone (DEX) suppression, corticotrophin releasing factor (CRF) activation, and the Trier Social Stress Task, were at best modestly associated. Escape from suppression stimulated by 1 mg of dexamethasone administered the night before was moderately but significantly associated with flatter daytime cortisol slopes (r=0..28 to .30 at different times of the post dexamethasone administration day, all p<.01) . Daytime cortisol slopes were also moderately but significant associated with the rise in cortisol from waking to 30 minutes after awakening (r=.29, p=.004, N=96), but not with waking cortisol level (r=−0.13, p=.19). However, we could not detect any association between daytime cortisol slope and activation of cortisol secretion by either CRF infusion or the Trier Social Stress Task. The CRF activation test (following 1.5 mg of dexamethasone to assure that the effect was due to exogenous CRF) produced ACTH levels that were correlated (r=0.66 p<.0001, N = 74) with serum cortisol levels, indicating adrenal responsiveness to ACTH stimulation. Daytime cortisol slopes were significantly correlated with the slope of DHEA (r=.21, p=.04, N=95). Our general findings suggest that flatter daytime cortisol slopes among metastatic breast cancer patients may be related to disrupted feedback inhibition rather than hypersensitivity in response to stimulation.
Cortisol; HPA; stress; dexamethasone; CRF; metastatic breast cancer
Fear conditioning methodologies have often been employed as testable models for assessing learned fear responses in individuals with anxiety disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and specific phobia. One frequently used paradigm is measurement of the acoustic startle reflex under conditions that mimic anxiogenic and fear-related conditions. For example, fear-potentiated startle is the relative increase in the frequency or magnitude of the acoustic startle reflex in the presence of a previously neutral cue (e.g., colored shape; termed the conditioned stimulus or CS+) that has been repeatedly paired with an aversive unconditioned stimulus (e.g., airblast to the larynx). Our group has recently used fear-potentiated startle paradigms to demonstrate impaired fear extinction in civilian and combat populations with PTSD. In the current study, we examined the use of either auditory or visual CSs in a fear extinction protocol that we have validated and applied to human clinical conditions. This represents an important translational bridge in that numerous animal studies of fear extinction, upon which much of the human work is based, have employed the use of auditory CSs as opposed to visual CSs. Participants in both the auditory and visual groups displayed robust fear-potentiated startle to the CS+, clear discrimination between the reinforced CS+ and non-reinforced CS−, significant extinction to the previously reinforced CS+, and marked spontaneous recovery. We discuss the current results as they relate to future investigations of PTSD-related impairments in fear processing in populations with diverse medical and psychiatric histories.
fear conditioning; acoustic startle; auditory; extinction; discrimination; human
Oxytocin reportedly decreases anxious feelings in humans and may therefore have therapeutic value for anxiety disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). As PTSD patients have exaggerated startle responses, a fear-potentiated startle paradigm in rats may have face validity as an animal model to examine the efficacy of oxytocin in treating these symptoms. Oxytocin (0, 0.01, 0.1, or 1.0 μg, subcutaneously) was given either 30 min before fear conditioning, immediately after fear conditioning, or 30 min before fear-potentiated startle testing to assess its effects on acquisition, consolidation, and expression of conditioned fear, respectively. Startle both in the presence and absence of the fear-conditioned light was significantly diminished by oxytocin when administered at acquisition, consolidation, or expression. There was no specific effect of oxytocin on light fear-potentiated startle. In an additional experiment, oxytocin had no effects on acoustic startle without previous fear conditioning. Further, in a context-conditioned test, previous light-shock fear conditioning did not increase acoustic startle during testing when the fear-conditioned light was not presented. The data suggest that oxytocin did not diminish cue-specific conditioned nor contextually conditioned fear, but reduced background anxiety. This suggests that oxytocin has unique effects of decreasing background anxiety without affecting learning and memory of a specific traumatic event. Oxytocin may have antianxiety properties that are particularly germane to the hypervigilance and exaggerated startle typically seen in PTSD patients.
oxytocin; anxiety; fear; startle; PTSD; neuropeptides; animal models; mood/anxiety/stress disorders; behavioral science; oxytocin
Although research suggests that socio-sexual behavior changes in conjunction with the menstrual cycle, several potential factors are rarely taken into consideration. We investigated the role of changing hormone concentrations on self-reported physical discomfort, sleep, exercise and socio-sexual interest in young, healthy women.
Salivary hormones (dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate-DHEAS, progesterone, cortisol, testosterone, estradiol and estriol) and socio-sexual variables were measured in 20 women taking oral contraceptives (OC group) and 20 not using OCs (control group). Outcome measures were adapted from questionnaires of menstrual cycle-related symptoms, physical activity, and interpersonal relations. Testing occurred during menstruation (T1), mid-cycle (T2), and during the luteal phase (T3). Changes in behavior were assessed across time points and between groups. Additionally, correlations between hormones and socio-behavioral characteristics were determined.
Physical discomfort and sleep disturbances peaked at T1 for both groups. Exercise levels and overall socio-sexual interest did not change across the menstrual cycle for both groups combined. However, slight mid-cycle increases in general and physical attraction were noted among the control group, whereas the OC group experienced significantly greater socio-sexual interest across all phases compared to the control group. Associations with hormones differed by group and cycle phase. The estrogens were correlated with socio-sexual and physical variables at T1 and T3 in the control group; whereas progesterone, cortisol, and DHEAS were more closely associated with these variables in the OC group across test times. The direction of influence further varies by behavior, group, and time point. Among naturally cycling women, higher concentrations of estradiol and estriol are associated with lower attraction scores at T1 but higher scores at T3. Among OC users, DHEAS and progesterone exhibit opposing relationships with attraction scores at T1 and invert at T3.
Data from this study show no change across the cycle in socio-sexual interest among healthy, reproductive age women but higher social and physical attraction among OC users. Furthermore, a broader range of hormones may be associated with attraction than previously thought. Such relationships differ by use of oral contraceptives, and may either reflect endogenous hormone modulation by OCs and/or self-selection of sexually active women to practice contraceptive techniques.