Background: Some intermediaries of cortisol synthesis, especially the sulfated ester of dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEAS), are picrotoxin-like antagonists of the γ-aminobutyric acid A (GABA-A) receptor and exert potent anxiogenic effects. We report 5 men and 7 women with refractory anxiety disorders, who had late-onset congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH), and in whom interactions between neuroactive steroids and anomalous brain substrates may have participated in the pathophysiology and treatment of anxiety.
Methods: Twelve patients with refractory anxiety disorders as defined by DSM-IV had elevated DHEAS and specific enzyme deficiencies diagnostic of CAH. All were treated with adrenal suppressive therapy using ketoconazole or low (physiologic) dose glucocorticoids. Anxiety was rated by the Tension Scale of the Profile of Mood States (POMS Tension) questionnaire before and during hormonal treatment.
Results: Reduction of DHEAS was associated with lower anxiety scores in all twelve cases. POMS Tension scores decreased by 55%. Hormonal treatment, which failed to lower DHEAS, was ineffective.
Conclusions: These findings suggest that late onset CAH can contribute to anxiety disorders and that adrenal suppressive therapy or inhibition of steroidogenesis with ketoconazole may be efficacious as adjuvant therapy.
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Accepted: March 16, 1999
Received in revised form: March 11, 1999
Received: November 20, 1998
© 1999 Society of Biological Psychiatry. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.