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Vol. 42, No. 2, 2000
Issue release date: July 2000
Neuropsychobiology 2000;42:51–57

Hippocampal Perfusion and Pituitary-Adrenal Axis in Alzheimer’s Disease

Murialdo G. · Nobili F. · Rollero A. · Gianelli M.V. · Copello F. · Rodriguez G. · Polleri A.
aDepartment of Endocrinological and Metabolic Sciences; bDepartment of Internal Medicine, Clinical Neurophysiology Service, and cInstitute of Occupational Medicine, Epidemiology Service, University of Genova, Italy

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The hippocampus is involved in Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and regulates the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPAA). Enhanced cortisol secretion has been reported in AD. Increased cortisol levels affect hippocampal neuron survival and potentiate β-amyloid toxicity. Conversely, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and its sulfate (DHEAS) are believed to antagonize noxious glucocorticoid effects and exert a neuroprotective activity. The present study was aimed at investigating possible correlations between hippocampus perfusion – evaluated by SPECT – and HPAA function in AD. Fourteen patients with AD and 12 healthy age-matched controls were studied by 99mTc-HMPAO high-resolution brain SPECT. Plasma adrenocorticotropin, cortisol, and DHEAS levels were determined at 2.00, 8.00, 14.00, 20.00 h in all subjects and their mean values were computed. Cortisol/DHEAS ratios (C/Dr) were also calculated. Bilateral impairment of SPECT hippocampal perfusion was observed in AD patients as compared to controls. Mean cortisol levels were significantly increased and DHEAS titers were lowered in patients with AD, as compared with controls. C/Dr was also significantly higher in patients. Using a stepwise procedure for dependent SPECT variables, the variance of hippocampal perfusional data was accounted for by mean basal DHEAS levels. Moreover, hippocampal SPECT data correlated directly with mean DHEAS levels, and inversely with C/Dr. These data show a relationship between hippocampal perfusion and HPAA function in AD. Decreased DHEAS, rather than enhanced cortisol levels, appears to be correlated with changes of hippocampal perfusion in dementia.

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