September 10, 2004

Stress Hormones and Schizophrenia

Read more... Schizophrenia Biology

Stress Hormones could play role in schizophrenia

New research suggests that the over-producuction of stress hormones could be responsible for physical changes to the brain in people with schizophrenia.

In a world-first study of 18 to 24-year-olds at high risk of developing a psychotic illness, researchers at the Melbourne Neuropsychiatry Centre and Orygen Research Centre have found that those who develop schizophrenia have a larger pituitary gland at the base of their brains than those who do not develop the illness.

This was also true for those who developed psychotic depression. Psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia are more likely to become apparent in early adulthood than at any other stage of life.

Melbourne University neuropsychiatry professor Christos Pantelis said the hormone cortisol, which is active in response to stress, could damage the brain.

The find could pave the way for early diagnosis, preventative tactics and new treatments for schizophrenia and other psychotic illnesses.

Professor Christos Pantelis said it suggested that high levels of stress at
the beginning of the illness may have an affect on the brain.

"It may be that developing ways to treat the illness early as well as reduce
stress may prevent some of the brain changes," he said.

In the early stages of schizophrenia -- which usually develops in a person's
late teens or early 20s -- physical changes occur in the region of the brain
responsible for behaviour, memory and emotion.

The researchers are currently examining the levels of stress hormones
circulating in the bodies of people with different psychotic illnesses.

The findings were released yesterday at the opening of the Melbourne (Australia) Neuropsychiatry Centre at the Royal Melbourne Hospital. While it was not yet clear if the enlarged pituitary gland was a cause or an effect of the brain changes observed, Professor Pantelis said the onset of psychotic conditions was highly stressful for young people and "they may be more vulnerable to the effects of the stress".

I like the notion of the integration of the psychological (stress) and the biological (pituitary gland).

If the findings on the pituitary gland are confirmed it may be possible to inhibit the production of cortisol and stop its damaging effects. Professor Pantelis hopes the changes seen in the earlier MRI work will also enable researchers to detect changes in the brain at the earliest onset of the condition.

David Castle of the Mental Health Research Institute said the initial findings of the team on the changes to the hippocampus were very important.

"I think all these things are pushing back the frontiers, really, and I like the notion of the integration of the psychological (stress) and the biological (pituitary gland)," he said.

Professor Castle said there was still much to be learnt about schizophrenia, saying the unknown outweighed the known. Professor Pantelis' group, with Orygen, is now planning to look at brain changes that might occur earlier in life in those at high risk of psychotic illness

Source: British Journal of Psychiatry (july, 2004 Issue), The Daily Telegraph (Sydney, Australia) and other news stories.


In a patient who developed SZ
later in her 20s(not diagnosed until she was 26),
showed negative symptoms from
puberty stage, found to have high prolactin level along with high TSH during her teen age. Started with atypical antipsychotics from her 26yrs age(quetiapine). her prolactin level is high now. could you please explain the significance? also, its a confusion, the mother had multiple failed amniocentesis, any relation?
could the foetus be CNS damaged?

Posted by: Raka Cheng at June 3, 2007 04:36 AM


Of course there can be underlying problems, as well as prenatal influences that can affect brain development and function.

Elevated prolactin and elevated TSH can indicate an endocrinological problem. Endocrinological problems can either cause symptoms of schizophrenia, or be co-esisting with schizophrenia.

In fact, both elevated prolactin and elevated TSH can be symptoms of thyroid dysregulation. Here is an article on that topic (just click on it):
Hypothyroidism and Psychiatric Illness

And here is a case that might interest you:

-Jeanie W.

Posted by: Jeanie at June 3, 2007 09:13 AM

Post a comment

Please enter this code to enable your comment -
Remember Me?
(you may use HTML tags for style)
* indicates required