Gender determines ACTH recovery from hypercortisolemia in healthy older humans

Animesh Sharma, Paul Aoun, Jean Wigham, Sue Weist, Johannes D. Veldhuis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Objective Available clinical data raise the possibility that stress-adaptive mechanisms differ by gender. However, this notion has not been rigorously tested in relation to cortisol-mediated negative feedback. Materials/Methods Degree of ACTH inhibition during and recovery from an experimental cortisol clamp was tested in 20 healthy older subjects (age 60 ± 2.2 y). Volunteers received oral placebo or ketoconazole (KTCZ) to inhibit adrenal steroidogenesis along with i.v. infusions of saline or a low vs high physiological dose of cortisol in a prospectively randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled design. ACTH and cortisol concentrations were measured every 10 min during the feedback-clamp phase and thereafter (recovery or escape phase). Corticosteroid-binding globulin (CBG) was measured, and free cortisol concentrations were calculated. Results Gender did not determine mean ACTH concentrations during the saline or cortisol feedback-clamp phases per se. However, women had markedly impaired ACTH recovery after stopping both low- and high-dose cortisol infusions compared with men (P = 0.005, KTCZ/low-dose cortisol arm; and P = 0.006, KTCZ/high-dose cortisol arm). Decreased ACTH recovery in women was accompanied by lower total and free cortisol concentrations, pointing to heightened feedback inhibition of hypothalamo-pituitary drive of ACTH secretion as the main mechanism. Conclusions In summary, gender or a factor related to gender, such as sex steroids or body composition, determines recovery of ACTH secretion from cortisol-enforced negative feedback. Attenuated ACTH recovery in post-menopausal women may have relevance to sex differences in stress-related adaptations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1819-1829
Number of pages11
JournalMetabolism: Clinical and Experimental
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2013


  • Aging
  • Cortisol
  • Feedback
  • Human

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Endocrinology


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