Elevation of the cortisol/dehydroepiandrosterone ratio in schizophrenia patients.

Research paper by Michael M Ritsner, Rachel R Maayan, Anatoly A Gibel, Rael D RD Strous, Ilan I Modai, Abraham A Weizman

Indexed on: 28 May '04Published on: 28 May '04Published in: European Neuropsychopharmacology


Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and its sulfate derivative DHEA-S are neurosteroids, produced in the brain, and neuroactive steroids, produced in the adrenals and affecting the brain. We compared the ratios of serum cortisol/DHEA or DHEA-S in schizophrenia patients with normal subjects, and determined the correlation of these ratios with psychopathology and distress. Early morning plasma concentrations of DHEA, DHEA-S, and cortisol were determined by radioimmunassay in 40 medicated schizophrenia inpatients, and 15 healthy subjects with similar age and sex distribution. Subjects were assessed for psychopathology using the Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale (PANSS) and the Montgomery and Asberg Depression Rating Scale (MADRS), anxiety, anger, emotional and somatic distress levels. Schizophrenia inpatients demonstrated significantly higher levels of state and trait anxiety, anger expression index, emotional and somatic self-reported distress scores. Cortisol/DHEA and cortisol/DHEA-S ratios were significantly higher in schizophrenia patients than in healthy comparison subjects. Both ratios correlated positively with age and duration of illness; cortisol/DHEA-S ratio also showed positive association with age of illness onset. When age, illness duration and age of onset were controlled, cortisol/DHEA-S ratio significantly correlated with severity of depression (MADRS, r=0.33, p=0.048), state and trait anxiety (r=0.43, p=0.008 and r=0.40, p=0.014, respectively), trait anger (r=0.41, p=0.012), angry temperament (r=0.46, p=0.004), anger expression index (r=0.36, p=0.033), and hostility (r=0.42, p=0.010). No significant association was found between these ratios and severity of psychopathology, and type or dosage of antipsychotic agents. Thus, elevated cortisol/DHEA and/or cortisol/DHEA-S ratios in schizophrenia patients are positively associated with higher scores for anxiety and anger, depression and hostility, age and age of onset/duration of illness, but are independent of severity of psychopathology (PANSS) and antipsychotic treatment.