Neuroendocrine and immune responses to a cognitive stress challenge in veterans with and without PTSD

de Kloet, CarienS.; Vermetten, Eric; Rademaker, ArthurR.; Geuze, Elbert; Westenberg, HermanG.M.
January 2012
European Journal of Psychotraumatology;2012, Vol. 3, Special section p1
Academic Journal
Background: PTSD has been associated with altered hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal-axis (HPA-axis), immune and sympathetic nervous system (SNS) regulation. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the effect of cognitive stress on these systems in PTSD patients and controls. Methods: The subjective units of distress score (SUDS), NK-cell response, plasma levels of noradrenalin and ACTH in response to cognitive stress were assessed in male veterans with PTSD (n=15) and age, region and year of deployment matched veterans without psychopathology (n=15). Results: The challenge induced an increase in SUDS, noradrenalin, ACTH and NK-cell response in both groups. Baseline levels of ACTH were lower in PTSD patients. The test was experienced as more stressful by PTSD patients and resulted in an augmented ACTH response in patients. The noradrenalin and NK-cell responses showed no group differences. The ACTH response correlated with the severity of symptoms in patients, and the noradrenalin response correlated with the ACTH and NK-cell response in controls, but not in patients. Discussion: PTSD patients experience more distress and present with an exaggerated pituitary response to this stressor. In addition, our results suggest an altered interaction between the HPA-axis, SNS and immune system in PTSD.


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