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April 1986

β-Endorphin/β-Lipotropin Immunoreactivity in Endogenous Depression: Effect of Dexamethasone

Author Affiliations

From Fuller Memorial Hospital, South Attleboro, Mass (Dr Matthews); Mental Health Research Institute, Department of Psychiatry, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (Drs Akil, Greden, and Watson and Ms Weinberg); the Inpatient Psychiatric Unit, Henry Ford Hospital, Detroit (Dr Rosenbaum); and the Department of Psychiatry, Yale University, New Haven, Conn (Dr Charney). Dr Rosenbaum is in private practice in Southfield, Mich.

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1986;43(4):374-381. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1986.01800040084012

• This study addresses the question of whether pituitary peptides (ie,β-endorphin) show regulatory disruption in endogenous depression and, if so, does it co-occur in the same subjects who show cortisol dysregulation. Endogenously depressed patients and psychiatric controls from three centers were evaluated, when not taking medications, and studied for plasma cortisol and β-endorphin levels. Plasma samples were taken at four time points over one hour, on the basal day, and 16 hours after 1 mg of dexamethasone. From 33% to 69% of the endogenous patients were abnormal in their postdexamethasone cortisol levels, and from 50% to 69% were abnormal on postdexamethasone β-endorphin values (vs 0% and 8%, respectively, for controls). When endogenous subjects were evaluated for abnormality on both cortisol and β-endorphin, after dexamethasone, it was found that the two measures of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal dysfunction did not necessarily co-vary. In fact when having either abnormal β-endorphin or cortisol levels (or both) was used as a biological marker a larger number of the endogenous patients were detected than with either measure alone. Our conclusions are as follows: Plasma β-endorphin shows a circadian rhythm similar to that seen with corticotropin (ACTH) and is suppressable by dexamethasone. In many endogenous patients plasma β-endorphin levels escape from dexamethasone suppression. Many of these subjects are not cortisol escapers. When abnormality of either the β-endorphin or cortisol is considered it is clear that both levels of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis can be dysregulated in endogenous depression.

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