Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) axis data, such as low plasma cortisol concentrations in spite of increased corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) levels in patients with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), are difficult to interpret. Atrial natriuretic peptide (ANP) may be an explanatory link in the neuroendocrine pathophysiology of the disorder, since it is a neuromodulator with antianxiety effects that inhibits HPA activity at multiple levels. Seventeen patients with chronic PTSD and 17 healthy control subjects were given 100 µg of human CRH at 3 p.m. ANP, adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), and cortisol levels in plasma as well as blood pressure and heart rate were measured during basal conditions and after CRH stimulation. Basal ANP levels were significantly lower in PTSD patients in comparison with normal controls, but the response to CRH was undistinguishable. In contrast to our expectation, no significant differences in basal or CRH-stimulated ACTH or cortisol parameters could be observed. Systolic and diastolic blood pressures at baseline and after CRH were significantly elevated in PTSD patients. All group differences remained significant after controlling for basal blood pressure and/or body mass index. Our data do not support a role of ANP in abnormal HPA axis regulation in PTSD. However, the persistently low ANP plasma levels in PTSD patients despite elevated blood pressure may serve to facilitate anxiety behavior and have adverse long-term cardiovascular consequences. Further studies to assess ANP secretion in PTSD patients and to clarify its pathophysiological impact are needed.
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