The circadian organization of adrenal secretion was studied in 23 healthy elderly subjects, 23 elderly demented patients and 10 healthy young subjects, in order to investigate the relationships between the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and some cerebral morphometric parameters. The cerebral morphometric analysis was performed in some subjects of the three groups by MRI. A significant increase in cortisol levels during evening and nighttime was found in both groups of the aged subjects. In elderly subjects, particularly if demented, the mean serum dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEAs) levels throughout the 24-hour cycle were significantly lower than in young controls. A significant reduction of the hippocampal and temporal volume and an enlargement of the lateral ventricles were found in aged subjects, these changes being significantly related to subjects' age. Moreover, the hippocampal volume was positively correlated with the circadian mesor of DHEAs (i.e., the circadian rhythm adjusted mean) and with the cortisol nocturnal increase. Our data may suggest the existence of a link between the selective impairment of cortisol secretion and DHEAs levels, and the progression of hippocampal degeneration
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