Effects of trauma exposure on the cortisol response to dexamethasone administration in PTSD and major depressive disorder

Rachel Yehuda, Sarah L. Halligan, Julia A. Golier, Robert Grossman, Linda M. Bierer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

169 Scopus citations


Objective: To evaluate cortisol suppression following 0.5 mg of dexamethasone (DEX) in trauma survivors (N=52) with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), major depressive disorder (MDD), both, or neither disorder, and in subjects never exposed to trauma (N=10), in order to examine interactions between diagnosis and trauma history on cortisol negative feedback inhibition. Method: Lifetime trauma exposure and psychiatric diagnoses were assessed and blood samples were obtained at 8:00 a.m. for the determination of baseline cortisol. Participants ingested 0.5 mg of DEX at 11:00 p.m. and blood samples for determination of cortisol and DEX were obtained at 8:00 a.m. the following day. Results: PTSD was associated with enhanced cortisol suppression in response to DEX. Among trauma survivors, the presence of a traumatic event prior to the "focal" trauma had a substantial impact on cortisol suppression in subjects with MDD. Such subjects were more likely to show cortisol alterations similar to those associated with PTSD, whereas subjects with MDD with no prior trauma were more likely to show alterations in the opposite direction, i.e. relative non-suppression. Conclusions: Cortisol hypersuppression in PTSD appears not to be dependent on the presence of traumatic events prior to the focal trauma. However, prior trauma exposure may affect cortisol suppression in MDD. This finding may have implications for understanding why only some depressed patients show non-suppression on the DST.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)389-404
Number of pages16
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 2004


  • Cortisol
  • Dexamethasone suppression test
  • Major depressive disorder
  • Neuroendocrinology
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder
  • Trauma


Dive into the research topics of 'Effects of trauma exposure on the cortisol response to dexamethasone administration in PTSD and major depressive disorder'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this