Stress and corticotropin-releasing hormone inhibit the reproductive axis. We hypothesized that reproductive axis hormone secretion, particularly luteinizing hormone secretion, is inhibited in women with depression, similar to what has been observed to be caused by stress in numerous species.
Blood samples were collected every 10 minutes for 12 hours in 25 untreated premenopausal women with depression and 25 nondepressed women who were matched by age and menstrual cycle day. Samples were assayed for luteinizing hormone, follicle-stimulating hormone, estradiol, and progesterone.
The mean plasma estradiol level was 30% lower in the follicular phase in women with depression than in their matched controls: 191 + 136 vs 261 + 169 pmol/L (52 + 37 vs 71 + 46 pg/mL). The half-life of luteinizing hormone was significantly shorter in women with depression than in their matched controls during both the follicular (22% shorter) and luteal (15% shorter) phases.
The blood levels of reproductive hormones were mostly normal in women with depression, but the blood level of estradiol was significantly lower. Estradiol is known to affect a number of neurotransmitter systems in the brain.