Stress, hypercortisolism and corticosteroid receptors in depression: implications for therapy

J Affect Disord. 2001 Jan;62(1-2):77-91. doi: 10.1016/s0165-0327(00)00352-9.


Clinical and preclinical studies have gathered substantial evidence that alterations of the stress hormone system play a major, causal role in the development of depression. In this review article, a summary of studies sustaining that view is given and data are presented which demonstrate that depression is associated with an impairment of corticosteroid receptor function that gives rise to an excessive release of neurohormones to which a number of signs and symptoms characteristic of depression can be attributed. The studies referred to in the following unanimously support the concept of an antidepressant mechanism of action that exerts its effects beyond the cell membrane receptors of biogenic amines and particularly includes the improvement of corticosteroid receptor function. When activated by ligands, corticosteroid receptors act as transcription factors in correspondence with numerous other transcription factors already known to be activated by antidepressants. Furthermore, the potential of drugs that interfere more directly with stress hormone regulation, such as corticosteroid receptor antagonists and corticotropin-releasing hormone receptor antagonists, is discussed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antidepressive Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Arousal / drug effects
  • Arousal / physiology*
  • Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone / physiology
  • Depressive Disorder / drug therapy
  • Depressive Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / blood*
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / drug effects
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / physiopathology
  • Receptors, Steroid / drug effects
  • Receptors, Steroid / physiology*
  • Stress, Psychological / complications*


  • Antidepressive Agents
  • Receptors, Steroid
  • Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone
  • Hydrocortisone