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Hoffmann, R. A wiki for the life sciences where authorship matters. Nature Genetics (2008)

The effect of desipramine on basal and naloxone-stimulated cortisol secretion in humans: interaction of two drugs acting on noradrenergic control of adrenocorticotropin secretion.

Desipramine (DMI), a tricyclic antidepressant and norepinephrine (NE) reuptake blocker, is reported to induce ACTH and cortisol release acutely in humans, probably by facilitating central NE neurotransmission. Tricyclic antidepressant therapy, including DMI, normalizes the ACTH and cortisol hypersecretion that often accompanies depression. The mechanism of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis inhibition by DMI in humans is unknown. In rats, DMI reduces the activity of the locus ceruleus, a major source of NE innervation of the hypothalamic paraventricular nucleus, the site of CRH neurons. Naloxone induces ACTH and cortisol release in humans through a noradrenergic- mediated mechanism and a probable consequent stimulation of hypothalamic CRH release. To study the interaction of these drugs on NE neurotransmission and, hence, HPA axis activity in humans, we administered DMI alone and with naloxone in a randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled protocol in eight healthy male volunteers. DMI (75 mg, orally) was given 180 min before naloxone (125 micrograms/kg BW, i.v.). Plasma ACTH and cortisol were measured at frequent intervals from 60 min before to 120 min after naloxone treatment. Plasma cortisol levels were 77% higher 180 min after DMI compared to those after placebo treatment (287 +/- 17 vs. 162 +/- 14 nmol/L; P = 0.000005). DMI reduced the naloxone-induced rise in cortisol (P = 0.02), but there was no change in the integrated cortisol response. The increase in basal plasma ACTH levels after DMI treatment did not reach statistical significance. DMI significantly increased systolic blood pressure and heart rate consistent with an effect on the noradrenergic control of the cardiovascular system. In summary, DMI increased basal cortisol levels consistent with facilitation of NE neurotransmission and, hence, hypothalamic CRH release. However, DMI had no enhancing effect on naloxone-induced cortisol release. This contrasts with the synergy observed when non-antidepressant agents that increase NE neurotransmission are given with naloxone to humans. DMI increases glucocorticoid feedback sensitivity in the rat HPA axis after several weeks through up-regulation of central corticosteroid receptors. However, this slowly developing effect is unlikely to occur during these acute studies. The effect of DMI on naloxone-induced cortisol release is consistent with an inhibitory effect on central noradrenergic control of ACTH release, perhaps at the locus ceruleus. This is the first human study to suggest an inhibitory effect of DMI on central noradrenergic control of ACTH release.[1]


  1. The effect of desipramine on basal and naloxone-stimulated cortisol secretion in humans: interaction of two drugs acting on noradrenergic control of adrenocorticotropin secretion. Torpy, D.J., Grice, J.E., Hockings, G.I., Crosbie, G.V., Walters, M.M., Jackson, R.V. J. Clin. Endocrinol. Metab. (1995) [Pubmed]
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