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Abstract

The function of the central alpha-adrenergic, serotoninergic and dopaminergic systems was investigated in 30 heroin-dependent subjects, 6–8 weeks after detoxification and in 22 psychophysically healthy controls (group C). Twelve heroin-dependent subjects with antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) (group A), 18 heroin-dependent subjects without other Axis I and II pathologies (group B) were included among abstinent substance abusers. The norepinephrine (NE) function was evaluated by the GH responses to acute stimulation with clonidine (clon); the serotonin (5-HT) function by the PRL and cortisol (CORT) responses to acute stimulation with d-fenfluramine (d-fen) and the dopamine (DA) function was investigated by growth hormone (GH) and prolactin (PRL) responses to acute administration of bromocriptine (brom). Alpha-adrenergic sensitivity, as measured by the GH-clon test, was found significantly reduced in A subjects (ASPD), in comparison with B subjects and controls. PRL and CORT responses to d-fen were significantly blunted both in A and B subjects, in comparison with control subjects. DA receptors sensitivity seems to be reduced significantly in ASPD (A subjects); in contrast, heroin addicts without open psychiatric co-morbidity showed unimpaired responses to brom challenge; a significantly lower GH response to brom and a lack of PRL suppression in ASPD subjects could express D2 postsynaptic receptor hyposensitivity possibly related to DA gene variants associated to co-morbid disorder. In sum, the study of central monoamine function revealed an alteration of the 5-HT system in all detoxified heroin-dependent subjects. A significant reduction of alpha-adrenergic receptors sensitivity and the hyposensitivity of postsynaptic DA receptors in ASPD subjects suggest once again that specific biological correlates of psychiatric co-morbidity may characterize substance abusers subtypes.