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Corticosteroid-serotonin interactions in depression: A review of the human evidence

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Richard Porter, Dr Peter GallagherORCiD, Dr Stuart Watson, Professor Allan Young


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Rationale: It has been suggested that corticosteroid-serotonin interactions are central to the pathophysiology of depression. These interactions have been investigated in healthy and depressed humans, primarily using neuroendocrine techniques. Objectives: To review the evidence regarding the nature of these interactions in healthy and depressed humans. Methods: Electronic searches were performed for relevant papers, employing MEDLINE and Web of Science. To focus the review, we selected only those articles involving (i) assessment of serotonergic function following experimental manipulation of the HPA axis in healthy volunteers; and (ii) assessment of both serotonergic and HPA axis function in clinically depressed subjects. Results: Pretreatment with hydrocortisone, both acutely and sub-acutely attenuates the GH response to GHRH in healthy subjects. This complicates the interpretation of 5-HT neuroendocrine studies employing GH output as a measure. In depression there is evidence that reduced availability of L-tryptophan impairs HPA axis feedback. There is also evidence that depressed and healthy subjects may adapt differently both to low tryptophan and hypercortisolaemic challenges. There is no consistent evidence of a simple relationship between HPA axis function and 5-HT function in depression. Conclusions: The putative reduction in central 5-HT function has not been shown to be a direct consequence of hypercortisolaemia. Rather, the 5-HT system and HPA axis have complex inter-relationships. Challenges to either system, such as stress or reduced dietary tryptophan, may perturb the other and subjects vulnerable to depression may fail to adapt to such challenges.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Porter RJ, Gallagher P, Watson S, Young AH

Publication type: Review

Publication status: Published

Journal: Psychopharmacology

Year: 2004

Volume: 173

Issue: 1

Pages: 1-17

ISSN (print): 0033-3158

ISSN (electronic): 1432-2072


DOI: 10.1007/s00213-004-1774-1

PubMed id: 15007595