In order to investigate the relationships between brain serotonergic turnover and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis function in unipolar depression, the authors measured intact adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) and cortisol levels in baseline conditions and after combined dexamethasone (1 mg PO) and L-5-hydroxytryptophan (L-5-HTP, 200 mg PO) administration in 13 minor, 17 simple major, and 17 melancholic subjects. L-5-HTP significantly enhanced post-DST ACTH and cortisol secretion in major-but not in minor-depressed subjects. Major depressed subjects with or without melancholia exhibited significantly higher post-DST ACTH and cortisol responses to L-5-HTP than minor depressed subjects. L-5-HTP administration converted some major depressed ACTH or cortisol suppressors into nonsuppressors. L-5-HTP stimulated ACTH or cortisol secretion to the same extent in major depressed HPA-axis suppressors and nonsuppressors. It is concluded that L-5-HTP loading may augment ACTH and, consequently, cortisol escape from suppression by dexamethasone in major but not in minor depressed subjects. The findings show that serotonergic mechanisms modulate the negative feedback of glucocorticoids on central HPA-axis regulation. It is hypothesized that the higher L-5-HTP-induced post-DST HPA-axis hormone responses in major depression reflect upregulated 5-HT2 receptor-driven breakthrough secretion of pituitary ACTH from suppression by dexamethasone.
- Adrenocorticotropic hormone 5-HT receptors
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
- Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
- Psychiatry and Mental health
- Biological Psychiatry