Decreased hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis sensitivity to cortisol feedback inhibition in human aging.


Wilkinson CW, Peskind ER, Raskind MA






Aging-related reduction in the sensitivity of the hypothalamic- pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis to glucocorticoid feedback inhibition has been demonstrated in rodents, but aging effects on glucocorticoid feedback inhibition in humans are unclear. This study assessed the influence of aging on the sensitivity of the human HPA axis to feedback inhibition induced by cortisol. Endogenous cortisol feedback inhibition was removed by treatment with metyrapone, which reduces cortisol synthesis by inhibiting 11 beta-hydroxylase. Feedback inhibition was then reintroduced by infusing exogenous cortisol. Sixteen young (26 +/- 1 years old) and 16 older (70 +/- 2 years old) subjects underwent three study conditions in random order. In the two cortisol infusion conditions, oral metyrapone treatment was followed by intravenous infusion of 0.03 mg/kg/h (83 nmol/kg/h) or 0.06 mg/kg/h (166 nmol/kg/h) cortisol for 150 min. Feedback sensitivity was estimated by the latency to and extent of decline of plasma ACTH concentration during and following the cortisol infusion. In a placebo condition, placebo tablets were substituted for metyrapone and normal saline infusion was substituted for cortisol. Blood samples were drawn twice prior to and at 15-min intervals for 4 h following the onset of the infusions, and plasma was assayed for 11- deoxycortisol, cortisol and ACTH. Plasma cortisol suppression and ACTH and 11-deoxycortisol elevations did not differ between age groups after metyrapone. Older subjects exhibited delayed and blunted ACTH responses to infused cortisol. Within older subjects, the ACTH response to the higher dose cortisol infusion was blunted in older women compared to older men. These data provide direct evidence for reduced responsiveness to glucocorticoid feedback inhibition in human aging.