Measurement of ACTH and prolactin in the dexamethasone suppression test

Acta Psychiatr Scand. 1987 Nov;76(5):535-40. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0447.1987.tb02915.x.


Plasma concentrations of ACTH and prolactin were measured in psychiatric inpatients at 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. before and after the standard 1 mg overnight Dexamethasone Suppression Test (DST). Plasma concentrations of cortisol were measured at 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., and 11 p.m. before and after 1 mg dexamethasone. Dexamethasone suppressed plasma concentrations of ACTH, prolactin and cortisol in the subject group as a whole. "Cut Points" obtained using Fisher's Exact Test identified plasma ACTH values at 8 a.m. baseline, 4 p.m. baseline and 8 a.m. post-dexamethasone and plasma prolactin values at all four times that significantly differentiated patients with bipolar depressive disorder and major depressive disorder from other psychiatric patients. There were no cut points found at any of the six times for plasma levels of cortisol that significantly differentiated between these two diagnostic groups. Of interest in this subject population, basal (pre-dexamethasone) plasma concentrations were of more diagnostic information than post-dexamethasone values. These pilot findings suggest that monitoring plasma prolactin and ACTH concentrations before and after dexamethasone might increase the sensitivity and specificity of this laboratory test for depression.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone / blood*
  • Bipolar Disorder / blood
  • Bipolar Disorder / diagnosis*
  • Depressive Disorder / blood
  • Depressive Disorder / diagnosis*
  • Dexamethasone*
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / blood
  • Male
  • Prolactin / blood*


  • Dexamethasone
  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone
  • Prolactin
  • Hydrocortisone