Background: Overcommitment (OC) is a pattern of excessive striving that has been associated with alterations in the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) system. To investigate whether overcommitment is associated with alterations in HPA system function we measured cortisol and adrenocorticotropin (ACTH) release in response to the combined dexamethasone/CRH test.
Methods: We recruited 92 men and 108 women of a wide range of OC scores including the minimum (6) and maximum (24) of possible OC scores (mean+/-SEM: 13.25+/-.27). We repeatedly measured plasma cortisol and ACTH levels in the combined dexamethasone/CRH test after injection of 100mul CRH preceded by administration of 1.5mg dexamethasone the night before. Moreover, we assessed depressive symptoms (Beck Depression Inventory, BDI) and work stress (effort-reward-imbalance, ERI).
Results: Independent of age and gender, higher OC was associated with higher repeated cortisol (interaction time-by-OC: p=.014, f=.15) but not ACTH (p=.22) secretion in the combined dexamethasone/CRH test. Similarly, higher cortisol (beta=.16, p=.029, R(2)=.02) but not ACTH (p=.47) increase following CRH injection was predicted by higher OC. Depressive symptoms (BDI score) and work stress scores (effort-reward-ratio) did not relate to neuroendocrine responses to the dexamethasone/CRH test. Controlling for depressive symptoms and work stress scores in addition to age and gender did not change results. OC was not associated with ACTH or cortisol pre-test levels.
Discussion: Whereas OC was not associated with alterations in negative feedback sensitivity after dexamethasone administration, our findings indicate that with increasing OC scores, a higher reactivity of the adrenal cortex together with a normal reactivity of the pituitary is observed following subsequent stimulation by CRH injection.
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