Attenuation of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical hyperactivity in depressed patients by mirtazapine
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It has been suggested that hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) system dysregulation plays an important role in the pathophysiology of depression and that normalization of HPA axis hyperactivity precedes successful treatment with antidepressants. Mirtazapine acts as an antagonist at presynaptic α2-receptors and at postsynaptic 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT)2, 5-HT3 and histamine H1 receptors. It has been shown acutely to inhibit cortisol secretion in healthy subjects.
In this study, we investigated whether mirtazapine may downtune HPA axis hyperactivity in depressed patients and whether this is related to treatment outcome.
Forty patients suffering from a major depressive episode (DSM-IV criteria) were treated with mirtazapine for 5 weeks. The combined dexamethasone suppression/CRH stimulation test (DEX/CRH test) was performed before and after 1 week of mirtazapine treatment (45 mg daily).
Mirtazapine effectively reduced the overshoot of cortisol and ACTH during the DEX/CRH test both in treatment responders and non-responders within 1 week.
Apparently, mirtazapine rapidly attenuates HPA axis hyperactivity in depressed patients via direct pharmacoendocrinological effects. However, this amelioration of HPA system dysregulation is not necessarily related to clinical improvement.