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Adrenergic Receptor Sensitivity in Depression:  Effects of Clonidine in Depressed Patients and Healthy Subjects

Dennis S. Charney, MD; George R. Heninger, MD; David E. Sternberg, MD; Karen M. Hafstad, RN; Suzanne Giddings; D. Harold Landis
Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1982;39(3):290-294. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1982.04290030030005.
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• Several recent investigations have raised the possibility that the sensitivity of α2-adrenergic receptor may be of etiologic importance in depression. To assess whether abnormalities in the presynaptic α2-adrenergic receptor exist in depressed patients not taking drugs, the effects of an α2 agonist, clonidine, on plasma 3-methoxy-4-hydroxyphenelethyleneglycol (MHPG) and on blood pressure (BP) were evaluated in 15 depressed patients and 12 healthy controls of similar age. The ability of clonidine to increase growth hormone (GH) secretion was also assessed. The effect of clonidine on plasma MHPG and BP was not different between the depressed patients and controls. However, the GH response to clonidine was blunted in the depressed patients. These results suggest that in depression (1) the sensitivity of the presynaptic α2-adrenergic receptor is not abnormal, and (2) the sensitivity of postsynaptic adrenergic receptors may be decreased.

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