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The prednisolone suppression test in depression: Dose-response and changes with antidepressant treatment

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Mario Juruena, Anthony J. Cleare, Andrew S. Papadopoulos, Lucia Poon, Stafford Lightman, Carmine M. Pariante

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1486-1491
Number of pages6
Issue number10
PublishedNov 2010


King's Authors


Depressed patients have reduced glucocorticoid receptor (GR) function, as demonstrated by resistance to the suppressive effects of the synthetic glucocorticoid hormone, and GR agonist, dexamethasone. We have developed a suppressive test with prednisolone, a synthetic glucocorticoid that is similar to cortisol in its pharmacodynamics and pharmacokinetics, and binds to both the GR and the mineralocorticoid receptor (MR). We have found that depressed patients suppress normally to prednisolone, unless they are particularly non-responsive to treatment. In the present study, we evaluated 28 inpatients with treatment-resistant depression (TRD), and compared salivary cortisol secretion (at 0900 h, 1200 h and 1700 h) after placebo or after prednisolone (5 mg), before and after an inpatient treatment admission. Half of the patients (n = 14) reached treatment response. When comparing the assessment between admission and discharge, cortisol output after placebo fell (-26% of area under the curve; p = 0.024) while the output after prednisolone did not change. Moreover, there was no change in the response to prednisolone (percentage suppression) between admission at discharge, and this was not influenced by treatment response. Finally, we could confirm and extend our previously published data with prednisolone (5 mg), showing that depressed patients (n = 12) and controls (n = 12) suppressed equally to both 5 and 10 mg doses of prednisolone. This study suggests that the response to prednisolone is similar in depressed patients and controls at different doses of prednisolone, and does not change with symptomatic improvement. This is in contrast with findings, from us and others, using other measures of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis function, such as basal cortisol levels or the response to dexamethasone. Thus, we propose that the prednisolone suppression test may offer specific biological and clinical information, related to its action at both the GR and the MR.

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