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Has the sun set for seasonal affective disorder and HPA axis studies? A systematic review and future prospects

journal contribution
posted on 2019-09-01, 00:00 authored by B Agustini, M Bocharova, Adam WalkerAdam Walker, Michael BerkMichael Berk, A H Young, M F Juruena
Objective: Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of cyclic mood disorder that tends to manifest as winter depression. SAD has anecdotally been described as a hypocortisolemic condition. However, there are no systematic reviews on SAD and Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis function. This review intends to summarize these findings. Methods: Using the PRISMA (2009) guideline recommendations we searched for relevant articles indexed in databases including MEDLINE, EMBASE, PsycINFO, and PsychArticles. The following keywords were used: "Seasonal affective disorder", OR "Winter Depression", OR "Seasonal depression" associated with: “HPA Axis” OR “cortisol” OR “CRH” OR “ACTH”. Results: Thirteen papers were included for qualitative analysis. Studies used both heterogeneous methods and populations. The best evidence comes from a recent study showing that SAD patients tend to demonstrate an attenuated Cortisol Awakening Response (CAR) in winter, but not in summer, compared to controls. Dexamethasone Suppression Test (DST) studies suggest SAD patients have normal suppression of the HPA axis. Conclusion: There is still insufficient evidence to classify SAD as a hypocortisolemic condition when compared to controls. Heterogeneous methods and samples did not allow replication of results. We discuss the limitations of these studies and provide new methods and targets to probe HPA axis function in this population. SAD can provide a unique window of opportunity to study HPA axis in affective disorders, since it is highly predictable and can be followed before, during and after episodes subsides.



Journal of affective disorders




584 - 593




Amsterdam, The Netherlands







Publication classification

C1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal

Copyright notice

2019, Elsevier B.V.