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November 1992

Neuroendocrine Response to L-5-Hydroxytryptophan Challenge in Prepubertal Major Depression: Depressed vs Normal Children

Author Affiliations

From the Department of Psychiatry, Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh (Pa), Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic.

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1992;49(11):843-851. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1992.01820110007001

• The neuroendocrine response to l-5-hydroxytryptophan was compared in 37 prepubertal children who met the Research Diagnostic Criteria for major depressive disorder with that in 23 normal children with no lifetime history of any psychiatric disorder and very low rates of depression in both first- and second-degree relatives. Intravenous l-5-hydroxytryptophan (0.8 mg/kg) was given over a 1-hour interval after preloading with oral carbidopa, an inhibitor of peripheral but not central l-5-hydroxytryptophan metabolism. l-5-Hydroxytryptophan, a precursor of serotonin, increases serotonin turnover in the central nervous system when given after carbidopa. Seven (19%) of the 37 children with major depressive disorder and two (9%) of the 23 normal children had nausea or vomiting and therefore did not complete the full infusion. They were subsequently excluded from data analysis. After this stimulation, prolactin, cortisol, and growth hormone secretion were compared between diagnostic groups. The depressed children secreted significantly less cortisol (effect size, 0.70) and significantly more prolactin (effect size, 0.83). There was a sex-by-diagnosis interaction in prolactin response to l-5hydroxytryptophan and, on examination, the prolactin hypersecretion was seen in depressed girls but not in depressed boys compared with same-sex controls. There was no significant stimulation of growth hormone in either group. These findings are consistent with dysregulation of central serotonergic systems in childhood major depression.

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