BACKGROUND To investigate an association between HPA axis dysfunction, depression and cognitive impairment, we assessed subjects with mild Alzheimer's disease (AD).
METHOD Sixteen non-depressed subjects with AD according to NINCDS/ADRDA criteria and 18 normal controls underwent the insulin hypoglycaemia (IH) test and the dexamethasone suppression test (DST).
RESULTS The AD subjects showed a blunted response of adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH) to IH compared with controls (P = 0.019). ACTH response (area under curve) correlated with a score for cognitive ability (CAMCOG) (r = 0.64, P < 0.01). AD subjects had a shorter time to peak cortisol level than controls (P = 0.004), although total cortisol response was normal.
CONCLUSIONS The AD subjects show evidence of adrenal hyper-responsiveness and normal immediate (rate-sensitive) glucocorticoid feedback. An association between HPA axis dysfunction and organic brain pathology in AD subjects may be mediated by cell loss in the hippocampus.