Cortisol and Cytokines in Chronic and Treatment-Resistant Patients with Schizophrenia: Association with Psychopathology and Response to Antipsychotics
The bilateral communication between the immune and neuroendocrine systems plays an essential role in modulating the adequate response of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis to the stimulatory influence of cytokines and stress-related mediators. Growing evidence suggests that neuro-immune-endocrine crosstalk may be impaired in schizophrenia. We determined the relationship between cortisol, cytokines interleukin-2 (IL-2) and interleukin-6 (IL-6), and symptoms in schizophrenia during treatment with typical and atypical antipsychotic drugs. Subjects included 30 healthy controls (HC) and 78 schizophrenic (SCH) in-patients. SCH were randomly assigned to 12-week treatment with 6 mg/day of risperidone or 20 mg/day of haloperidol using a double-blind design. Clinical efficacy was determined using the Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale (PANSS). Serum cortisol and IL-2 levels were assayed by radioimmunometric assay, and serum IL-6 levels by quantitative enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. Following a 2-week washout period, serum levels of cortisol, IL-2, and IL-6 were increased in patients with schizophrenia compared to HC. Elevations in cortisol were associated with increase in both IL-2 and IL-6 in SCH. Moreover, elevations in cortisol were associated with negative symptoms and IL-2 with positive symptoms. In all, 12 weeks of risperidone treatment significantly decreased elevated cortisol and improved negative symptoms, but produced similar effects on IL-2 and IL-6 as well as on positive symptoms compared to haloperidol. The improvement of negative symptoms was related to the change in cortisol. Our results suggest that the imbalance in the HPA axis and cytokine system in patients with SCH is implicated in clinical symptoms, and is improved with atypical antipsychotic treatment.