BACKGROUND: The extent to which cortisol levels are elevated in major depressive episodes (MDE), and hence could act as a biomarker of illness, remains unclear. Although patient characteristics may explain some of this variation - for example elevated cortisol being more often found in patients with severe, psychotic or melancholic depression - problems with the methods used to measure cortisol may also have contributed to the inconsistent findings. Fingernails are a novel sample that can be used to assess aggregate cortisol concentrations over a 15-day period, and may provide a more accurate reflection of longer term cortisol level changes in MDE and help clarify this issue. This methodology has not yet been utilised in MDE.
METHODS: Cortisol levels reflecting a period of 15days were measured using fingernails in a group of 26 subjects experiencing a major depressive episode (MDE) and in an age and gender matched group of 45 healthy controls.
RESULTS: Depressed subjects showed significantly higher mean cortisol levels measured in fingernails when compared with control subjects. Higher levels of cortisol were associated with higher depression severity scores, a diagnosis of non-reactive depression, and more prominent melancholic symptoms. Conversely, fatigue was negatively correlated with cortisol levels.
CONCLUSION: There is elevated cortisol in MDE when assessed using an aggregate measure over two weeks.Alterations in fingernail cortisol correlate with key clinical symptoms and subtypes of depression.
- Journal Article