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The dexamethasone suppression test in schizophrenia

  • K. ISMAIL (a1), R. M. MURRAY (a1), M. J. WHEELER (a1) and V. O'KEANE (a1)


Background. Cortisol non-suppression following the dexamethasone suppression test (DST) has been found to a variable extent in schizophrenia. The aetiology is unclear but may be related to depression or negative symptoms.

Methods. The DST was administered to 64 patients with DSM-IV schizophrenia. All patients were screened for DSM-IV major depression and rated on the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression (HRSD), Scale for Assessment of Negative Symptoms (SANS) and the Brief Psychiatric Rating Scale (BPRS).

Results. DSM-IV criteria for major depression was fulfilled by 36% of the patients and 42% of patients had a history of parasuicide. Four patients had undetectable levels of dexamethasone and were excluded from the endocrine analyses. Only one remaining patient had a cortisol level above the cut-off point (>138 nmol/l), indicating escape from dexamethasone suppression. The post-dexamethasone cortisol level correlated significantly with HRSD and BPRS scores but not with the SANS. The SANS and HRSD scores were not correlated, but they were independently correlated with the BPRS score.

Conclusions. In contrast to some other work, rates of dexamethasone non-suppression were very low; together with the high rates of depression, this suggests that depression in schizophrenia may have a different neuroendocrine profile from major depressive disorders. Failure to measure dexamethasone levels can be misleading.


Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Dr Khalida Ismail, Department of Psychological Medicine, Institute of Psychiatry, 103 Denmark Hill, London SE5 8AZ.


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