Stress hormones and verbal memory in young people over the first 12 weeks of treatment for psychosis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


  • Kelly A. Allott
  • Hok Pan Yuen
  • Cali F Bartholomeusz
  • Marta Rapado-castro
  • Christina Phassouliotis
  • Felicity Butselaar
  • Tina-marie Proffitt
  • Greg Savage
  • Lisa J Phillips
  • Sarah Bendall
  • Connie Markulev
  • Christos Pantelis
  • Lara Baldwin
  • Patrick D McGorry
  • Belinda Garner

External organisations

  • Orygen, The National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health
  • Melbourne Neuropsychiatry Centre, University of Melbourne and Melbourne Health
  • ARC Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders, Department of Psychology, Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia
  • University of Melbourne
  • School of Clinical Sciences and Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia.


Aims: Memory impairment in psychosis may be mediated through detrimental effects of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis function. This study prospectively investigated the relationship between cortisol, sulphate dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA(S) and cortisol:DHEA(S) ratio and memory in 35 first-episode psychosis (FEP) patients during the first 12 weeks of treatment and 23 healthy controls (HC).

Methods: Morning blood sampling and tests of attention, working memory and verbal memory occurred at baseline and 12-week follow-up.

Results: FEP and HC groups did not significantly differ in levels of cortisol, DHEA(S) or their ratio at baseline or over 12-weeks. The FEP group performed significantly below HC on all cognitive measures at baseline and over 12-weeks. Cortisol levels were unrelated to cognition in both groups. At baseline, DHEA(S) was positively associated with attention in HCs, but negatively associated with attention in FEP participants. Change in DHEA(S) was negatively associated with change in memory over 12-weeks in both groups. At 12-weeks, there was a negative correlation between the cortisol:DHEA(S) ratio and attention in both groups.

Conclusions: These findings are mostly in contrast to findings in chronic schizophrenia. Investigation at different illness phases and over longer-follow-up periods is required to determine the complex relationship between HPA-axis and memory functioning in psychosis.


Original languageEnglish
Article numberPSY_2017_813_R2
Pages (from-to)60-66
JournalPsychiatry Research
Early online date20 Nov 2017
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2018


  • cortisol, sulphate dehydroepiandrosterone, memory, first-episode psychosis, stress