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Publication Detail
Accelerated forgetting of a trauma-like event in healthy men and women after a single dose of hydrocortisone
  • Publication Type:
    Journal article
  • Authors:
    Hennessy VE, Troebinger L, Iskandar G, Das RK, Kamboj SK
  • Publisher:
    Springer Science and Business Media LLC
  • Publication date:
  • Journal:
    Translational Psychiatry
  • Volume:
  • Article number:
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  • Notes:
    This is an open access article under the CC BY license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is characterised by dysregulated hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis activity and altered glucocorticoid receptor sensitivity. Early treatment with glucocorticoids may reduce PTSD risk, although the effect of such treatment on the aetiologically critical step of traumatic-memory-formation remains unclear. Here we examine the effects of exogenous cortisol (hydrocortisone) in a preclinical model of PTSD, using a factorial (Drug × Sex), randomised-controlled, double-blind design. Healthy men and women (n = 120) were randomised to receive 30 mg oral hydrocortisone or matched placebo immediately after watching a stressful film. Effects on film-related intrusions were assessed acutely in the lab, and ecologically using daily memory diaries for one week. We found that participants receiving hydrocortisone showed a faster reduction in daily intrusion frequency. Voluntary memory was assessed once, at the end of the week, but was unaffected by hydrocortisone. Exploratory analyses indicated sex-dependent associations between intrusions and baseline estradiol and progesterone levels. In men receiving hydrocortisone, higher baseline estradiol levels were associated with fewer intrusions, whereas women exhibited the opposite pattern. By contrast, progesterone levels were positively associated with intrusions only in men treated with hydrocortisone. The findings suggest that hydrocortisone promotes an accelerated degradation of sensory-perceptual representations underlying traumatic intrusive memories. In addition, while sex alone was not an important moderator, the combination of sex and sex-hormone levels (especially estradiol) influenced hydrocortisone’s effects on involuntary aversive memories. Future well-powered experimental studies may provide a basis for a precision-psychiatry approach to optimising early post-traumatic glucocorticoid treatments that target intrusive memories, based on individual endocrinological profiles.
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