Stimulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis
with the opioid antagonist nalmefene

Geer EB, Landman RE, Wardlaw SL, Conwell IM, Freda PU.
Department of Medicine,
Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons,
New York, NY 10032, USA.
Pituitary. 2005;8(2):115-22.


Nalmefene Stimulation of the HPA Axis. BACKGROUND: The Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis plays a vital role in the body's response to stress. The traditional gold standard for evaluating the HPA axis, the insulin hypoglycemia test (IHT), has several known limitations, and a second test, the standard ACTH stimulation test, can detect severe deficiencies of cortisol, but often misses mild or early cases. Therefore, a better test for the evaluation of the HPA axis is needed. This study evaluated the opiate antagonist nalmefene as a stimulation test of the HPA axis. METHODS: 25 healthy subjects were studied, 9 women and 16 men, mean age 30.4 yr. (range 21-55), and mean BMI 24.1 kg/m2 (range 18.6-34.2). Subjects received one of 3 doses of intravenously administered nalmefene: 2 mg (n = 6), 6 mg (n = 12), or 10 mg (n = 7). Serum cortisol and plasma ACTH were measured before and serially over two hours after the administration of nalmefene. RESULTS: ACTH and cortisol levels rose significantly and similarly after the 10 mg dose and the 6 mg dose. After the 10 mg dose, mean peak ACTH was 82.4 +/- 22.6 pg/ml and mean peak cortisol was 25.2 +/- 1.8 microg/dl. After the 6 mg dose, mean peak ACTH was 70.3 +/- 7.7 pg/ml and mean peak cortisol was 24.7 +/- 1.7 microg/dl. Cortisol levels rose above 18 microg/dl in all subjects receiving 10 mg of nalmefene, and in all but two of the subjects receiving 6 mg of nalmefene. Side effects to nalmefene were of greater duration and intensity in the subjects receiving 10 mg of nalmefene vs. those receiving 6 or 2 mg. These included most notably fatigue, lightheadedness, nausea and vomiting. CONCLUSIONS: Of the nalmefene doses we studied, 6 mg achieved the best combination of stimulation of ACTH and cortisol and fewest side effects. If further studies show a concordance between

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