HPA-axis regulation at in-patient admission is associated with antidepressant therapy outcome in male but not in female depressed patients.Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2009 Jan; 34(1):99-109.P
A concatenation of data implicates a hyperactivity of the hypothalamus pituitary adrenal (HPA)-axis in the pathogenesis of depression and its normalization as a necessary predecessor of clinical response to antidepressant drugs. In addition, regulation of the HPA-axis has been shown to be dependent on sex hormones. We therefore investigated gender differences in HPA-axis regulation in depression and its normalization during remission of clinical symptoms. We used the combined dexamethasone suppression/CRH stimulation (Dex-CRH) test to evaluate the degree of HPA-axis dysregulation in 194 in-patients with unipolar depression from the Munich Antidepressant Response Signature (MARS) study at both admission and discharge. The Hamilton Depression (HAM-D) Rating Scale was used to monitor clinical response to antidepressant treatment. For both genders, we observed a normalization of HPA-axis dysregulation in remitters but not in non-remitters, both after 5 weeks of treatment and at discharge. The pattern of HPA-axis normalization with remission of depressive symptoms, however, showed gender-specific differences. In male patients, remission after 5 weeks of in-patient treatment was associated with a significantly higher cortisol response in the Dex-CRH test at admission. In female patients, 5-week remitters and non-remitters had a comparable cortisol response at admission. Cortisol response at admission was not correlated with gonadal steroid levels at this time point and the results were similar for pre-menopausal women vs. post-menopausal women. Gender-associated biological characteristics, likely independent of circulating gonadal steroids, thus seem to influence HPA-axis regulation in depression. In male patients, a single measure of HPA-axis dysregulation at admission may serve as a predictor of response to antidepressant treatment in addition to the previously reported repeated measure of the Dex-CRH test.