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Hormone levels contribute to stress resilience

Performance of military combat divers under stress is affected by their hormone levels

It is important to understand what biological mechanisms contribute to an individual's capacity to be resilient under conditions of extreme stress, such as those regularly experienced by soldiers, police, and firefighters.

Dr. Charles A. Morgan III and his colleagues from Yale University and the VA National Center for PTSD have worked closely with collaborators at the Special Forces Underwater Warfare Operations Center to study special operations soldiers enrolled in the military Combat Diver Qualification Course (CDQC).

Dehydroepiandrosterone, or "DHEA" as it is commonly known, is a hormone that is secreted by the adrenal gland in response to stress. Although medical scientists have known for over a decade that DHEA provides beneficial, anti-stress effects in animals, they did not know until now whether this was also true for humans.

The scientists completed psychological and hormone assessments on a group of soldiers the day before they began the month-long CDQC, and immediately after their final pass/fail exam – a highly stressful, nocturnal, underwater navigation exercise.

They found that soldiers with more DHEA performed better during the final underwater navigation exam than those with less DHEA. These findings are being published by Elsevier in the August 15th issue of Biological Psychiatry.

Underwater navigation is a task that relies on an area of the brain called the hippocampus that is very sensitive to the negative effects of stress. "Animal studies have shown that DHEA buffers against stress, in part, by modulating receptors in this region of the brain," explained Dr. Morgan. "These findings are important in understanding why and how soldiers may differ in their ability to tolerate stress and also raise the possibility that, in the future, compounds like DHEA might be used to protect military personnel from the negative impact of operational stress."

Clearly, additional research is still needed but these findings are a step forward in the quest to help prevent or better treat the symptoms of stress-related disorders that these high-risk individuals experience.

The article is "Relationships Among Plasma Dehydroepiandrosterone and Dehydroepiandrosterone Sulfate, Cortisol, Symptoms of Dissociation, and Objective Performance in Humans Exposed to Underwater Navigation Stress" by Charles A. Morgan III, Ann Rasmusson, Robert H. Pietrzak, Vladimir Coric, and Steven M. Southwick. Authors Morgan, Pietrzak, Coric, and Southwick are affiliated with the Department of Psychiatry, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut. Morgan, Pietrzak, and Southwick are also with the National Center for PTSD, VA CT Healthcare System, West Haven, Connecticut. Rasmusson is from the Department of Psychiatry, Boston University, and the National Center for PTSD, VA Boston Healthcare System, in Boston, Massachusetts. The article appears in Biological Psychiatry, Volume 66, Issue 4 (August 15, 2009), published by Elsevier.

The authors' disclosures of financial and conflicts of interests are available in the article.

Full text of the article mentioned above is available upon request. Contact Jayne M. Dawkins at to obtain a copy or to schedule an interview.

About Biological Psychiatry

This international rapid-publication journal is the official journal of the Society of Biological Psychiatry. It covers a broad range of topics in psychiatric neuroscience and therapeutics. Both basic and clinical contributions are encouraged from all disciplines and research areas relevant to the pathophysiology and treatment of major neuropsychiatric disorders. Full-length and Brief Reports of novel results, Commentaries, Case Studies of unusual significance, and Correspondence and Comments judged to be of high impact to the field are published, particularly those addressing genetic and environmental risk factors, neural circuitry and neurochemistry, and important new therapeutic approaches. Concise Reviews and Editorials that focus on topics of current research and interest are also published rapidly.

Biological Psychiatry ( is ranked 4th out of the 101 Psychiatry titles and 14th out of 219 Neurosciences titles on the 2008 ISI Journal Citations Reports® published by Thomson Scientific.

About Elsevier

Elsevier is a world-leading publisher of scientific, technical and medical information products and services. Working in partnership with the global science and health communities, Elsevier's 7,000 employees in over 70 offices worldwide publish more than 2,000 journals and 1,900 new books per year, in addition to offering a suite of innovative electronic products, such as ScienceDirect (, MD Consult (, Scopus (, bibliographic databases, and online reference works.

Elsevier (http://www/ is a global business headquartered in Amsterdam, The Netherlands and has offices worldwide. Elsevier is part of Reed Elsevier Group plc (, a world-leading publisher and information provider. Operating in the science and medical, legal, education and business-to-business sectors, Reed Elsevier provides high-quality and flexible information solutions to users, with increasing emphasis on the Internet as a means of delivery. Reed Elsevier's ticker symbols are REN (Euronext Amsterdam), REL (London Stock Exchange), RUK and ENL (New York Stock Exchange).

Jayne Dawkins | EurekAlert!
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