Altered circadian cortisol secretion in Alzheimer's disease: Clinical and neuroradiological aspects



We determined circadian salivary cortisol levels in 18 outpatients affected by probable Alzheimer's disease (AD) and looked for a possible correlation with both cognitive impairment and brain CT scan findings. The diagnosis of probable AD was made according to the NINCDS-ADRDA criteria. The severity of cognitive impairment was quantified using the Mini Mental State Examination (MMSE) and the Global Deterioration Scale (GDS). Cortisol levels were measured on saliva samples collected at 08:00 AM and 08:00 PM. For each sample, a duplicate cortisol measurement was performed on 50 μl of saliva by means of a modified commercial radioimmunoassay kit. At the same time, 11 of the 18 AD patients enrolled also underwent a brain CT scan to estimate cerebral atrophy by using linear indexes. The mean value of cortisol levels was significantly higher in AD patients than in controls at both the morning and the evening measurements, and the circadian fluctuation of cortisol was less marked in AD patients than in controls, although this difference did not reach statistical significance. Morning cortisol levels were significantly correlated to both the MMSE and the GDS scores. A significant correlation was also found between morning cortisol levels and all the cerebral atrophy indexes. By contrast, no correlation was observed between evening cortisol levels or cortisol circadian fluctuations and either cognitive impairment or cerebral atrophy. In conclusion, despite the potential biases deriving from the small sample and the limitations of the CT scan study, our results suggest that, in AD patients, hypercortisolemia is correlated with severity of the disease. J. Neurosci. Res. 66:262–265, 2001. © 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.