Stress reactivity and pituitary volume influence emotional regulation and affect. Numerous studies have been conducted that demonstrate the relationship between hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis hyperactivity and depression. Additionally, research has also shown that stress reactivity and sensitivity as measured by cortisol samples also impact an individual’s response to stress. All of these factors have been evaluated with regards to psychosis. People with a history of psychotic episodes and those at risk for psychosis have been shown to have increased stress reactivity. Understanding how HPA and stress affect the development of psychosis could help clinicians identify those most vulnerable. “To date, the association between pituitary volume and stress reactivity in psychotic disorder remains unclear,” said Petra Habets of the Department of Psychiatry and Psychology at Maastricht University Medical Center in the Netherlands. Habets sought to illuminate this relationship in a recent study.
Habets used magnetic resonance imaging to measure the pituitary volume of 89 participants comprising a nonpsychotic control group, individuals with psychosis, and their siblings with no history of psychosis. Habets used the Experiencing Sampling Method (ESM) to gauge stress reactivity and affect in the participants. The study revealed that although some of the participants had a history of psychosis, there was no variance in the level of pituitary volume in any of the three subgroups of participants. However, those who had psychosis did have elevated levels of stress reactivity based on ESM, when compared to their siblings and the nonpsychotic control participants. Additionally, Habets discovered that although the level of pituitary volume was the same at the onset of the study, when stress was induced, the individuals with psychosis had the most dramatic increases in volume. Habets believes that this increase in pituitary volume in response to stress suggests that emotional reactivity could directly impact pituitary activity, leading to negative affect and the potential for psychosis. In sum, these findings provide evidence of a link between pituitary volume and psychosis, but much more research is needed to fully elucidate this relationship in order to fully help people at risk for psychotic conditions such as schizophrenia.
Habets, P. Collip, D., Myin-Germeys, I., Gronenschild, E., Van Bronswijk, S. (2012). Pituitary volume, stress reactivity and genetic risk for psychotic disorder. Psychological Medicine, 42.7, 1523-1533.
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