Detection of the acute effects of hydrocortisone in the hippocampus using pharmacological fMRI.

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    Impaired hippocampal function is believed to be important in the pathogenesis of depression. The hippocampus contains a high concentration of both mineralocorticoid (MR) and glucocorticoid receptors (GR), and the experimental administration of corticosteroids has been reported to mimic memory impairments seen in depression. Using pharmacological functional magnetic resonance imaging (phMRI) we investigated whether hippocampal function is altered after acute administration of hydrocortisone. Changes in BOLD signal following infusion of 100mg hydrocortisone given as a rapid intravenous bolus were measured in 14 healthy volunteers in a within-subject placebo-controlled crossover design. Subsequently, subjects completed an n-back task during an fMRI scan. Hydrocortisone infusion caused a significant, time-dependent increase in fMRI BOLD signal in hippocampus reaching a maximal effect at 11-19min. The n-back task increased BOLD signal in prefrontal and parietal cortical areas and decreased it in the hippocampus. After hydrocortisone the left hippocampal decrease in BOLD signal was attenuated with the magnitude of attenuation correlating with the increase seen after hydrocortisone infusion. No difference in behavioural task performance was observed. The results suggest acute hydrocortisone has rapid direct and modulatory influences on hippocampal function, probably acting through non-genomic GR or MR signalling. Hydrocortisone infusion phMRI may be a useful tool to investigate hippocampal corticosteroid receptor function in depression.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)867-874
    Number of pages7
    JournalEuropean neuropsychopharmacology : the journal of the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology
    Issue number12
    Publication statusPublished - Dec 2012


    • Corticosteroids
    • FMRI
    • Hippocampus
    • Working memory


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