Physical Causes of HPA Axis Hyperactivity and Smaller Hippocampus Volumes Linked to Depression in Multiple Sclerosis

I found this new research to be quite interesting.   Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease in which the fatty myelin sheaths around the axons of the brain and spinal cord become damaged.  Depression has been found to be present in nearly 50% of MS sufferers.

It is clear though that the depression is not just a psychological reaction to having the disease.  This is because in patients the depression occurs and it has been found to not be related to how severe one’s MS is and it also can occur at different stages of MS.
Recently researchers at UCLA have showed a physical cause for depression in those patients suffering from MS atrophy of a specific region of the hippocampus which is part of the brain.

The researchers also found a relationship atrophy of the hippocampus and hyperactivity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. It is believed that the dysregulation of the HPA axis may play a role in the atrophy of the hippocampus and cause depression.

“Depression is one of the most common symptoms in patients with multiple sclerosis,” Gold said. “It impacts cognitive function, quality of life, work performance and treatment compliance. Worst of all, it’s also one of the strongest predictors of suicide.”

The researchers were able to come to these conclusions by examining three regions of the hippocampus in MS patients and comparing them to healthy patients without MS. Further the researches measured cortisol levels which is a stress hormone produced by the HPA axis.

Gold et al.Smaller Cornu Ammonis 2-3/Dentate Gyrus Volumes and Elevated Cortisol in Multiple Sclerosis Patients with Depressive Symptoms. Biological Psychiatry, 2010.

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