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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Disregulation of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis in the mentally retarded.

  • Author(s): Sandman, CA
  • Barron, JL
  • Parker, L
  • et al.

Previous reports of cognitive and social improvement in the mentally retarded after administration of MSH/ACTH fragments suggested disregulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. The current study examined the integrity of this system with the Dexamethasone Suppression Test (DST). The DST is a biological index of HPA integrity and recently has been used as a diagnostic aid for endogenous depression. Thirty-five mentally retarded patients were administered 1 mg of dexamethasone just after a sample of blood was taken. Blood samples were analyzed for cortisol by RIA at 11:00 p.m. (basal), 8:00 a.m., 4:00 p.m., and 10:00 p.m. Between 40% and 48% (depending on sampling) of the patients failed to suppress cortisol (greater than 4 micrograms/dl), after the DST challenge. The results suggested that a significant proportion of mentally retarded patients have a DST index reflecting a disordered HPA axis and complements earlier studies of cognitive enhancement observed after treatment with MSH/ACTH fragments. The possibility that the stress of hospitalization was related to a disordered HPA was suggested. The possible co-existence of depression in the mentally retarded invites further study.

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