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April 1987

Catecholamine Metabolism and Disposition in Healthy and Depressed Subjects

Author Affiliations

From the University of Texas Health Science Center, San Antonio (Drs Maas and Bowden); National Institute of Mental Health (Dr Koslow) and Group Operations Inc (Dr Berman), Rockville, Md; Illinois State Psychiatric Institute, Chicago (Drs Davis and Gibbons); Albert Einstein College of Medicine (Dr Katz) and Cornell University Medical School (Dr Stokes), New York; Philadelphia Veterans Administration Medical Center (Dr Frazer); and Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Conn (Mr Landis).

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1987;44(4):337-344. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1987.01800160041007

• Depressed patients as a group have been found to excrete greater amounts of catecholamines (CAs) and metabolites than healthy control subjects, but these differences were not uniform for all metabolites. Patients may differ from controls in the metabolism and/or disposition of CAs. We analyzed the suggested metabolic-dispositional differences by determining 24-hour urine values for norepinephrine (NE), epinephrine (E), normetanephrine (NM), metanephrine (M), vanillylmandelic acid (VMA), and 3-methoxy-4-hydroxyphenylglycol (MHPG). For each subject, we calculated ratios of CAs or metabolites to an estimate of CA synthesis and determined ratios of CAs and metabolites to each other based on a precursor-product paradigm. The results indicate that (1) as a group, patients have modestly but significantly greater CA synthesis rates than controls; (2) patients excrete disproportionately more NE and E and disproportionately less MHPG relative to estimated CA synthesis, as well as other metabolites, than do controls; (3) in contrast to NE, E, and MHPG, the increased NM, M, and VMA excretion rates by patients are proportional to each other as well as to the increase in CA synthesis; and (4) the differences in NE, E, and metabolite excretion in the patients as a group are due principally to unipolar rather than bipolar depressives. The differences would be expected if patients, relative to controls, released more NE and E into the circulation. These data indicate the need to measure several CAs and metabolites when evaluating differences between groups since the significance of any given metabolite value needs to be examined in the context of total CA and metabolite production and excretion.

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