Cortisol excess and the brain

Eugenia Resmini, Alicia Santos, Susan M. Webb

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


© 2016 S. Karger AG, Basel. Until the last decade, little was known about the effects of chronic hypercortisolism on the brain. In the last few years, new data have arisen thanks to advances in imaging techniques; therefore, it is now possible to investigate brain activity in vivo. Memory impairments are present in patients with Cushing's syndrome (CS) and are related to hippocampal damage; functional dysfunctions would precede structural abnormalities as detected by brain imaging. Earlier diagnosis and rapid normalization of hypercortisolism could stop the progression of hippocampal damage and memory impairments. Impairments of executive functions (including decision-making) and other functions such as visuoconstructive skills, language, motor functions and information processing speed are also present in CS patients. There is controversy concerning the reversibility of brain impairment. It seems that longer disease duration and older age are associated with less recovery of brain functioning. Conversely, earlier diagnosis and rapid normalization of hypercortisolism appear to stop progression of brain damage and functional impairments. Moreover, brain tissue functioning and neuroplasticity can be influenced by many factors. Currently available studies appear to be complementary, evaluating the same phenomenon from different points of view, but are often not directly comparable. Finally, CS patients have a high prevalence of psychopathology, such as depression and anxiety which do not completely revert after cure. Thus, psychological or psychiatric evaluation could be recommended in CS patients, so that treatment may be prescribed if required.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)74-86
JournalFrontiers of Hormone Research
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2016


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