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Heather Abercrombie, PhD | UW Psychiatry Grand Rounds

August 23, 2019 @ 12:00 pm - 1:15 pm

Neurocognitive Sensitivity to Cortisol in Depression


Heather C. Abercrombie, Ph.D.
Associate Professor (CHS)
University of Wisconsin-Madison
School of Medicine and Public Health
Department of Psychiatry

Many individuals with depression show “glucocorticoid resistance,” which reflects systemic and cellular insensitivity to the stress-related hormone cortisol.  However, the neural and psychological relevance of glucocorticoid resistance is unknown. This is a huge gap in our knowledge, because basic research shows that cortisol has potent yet variable effects on psychological function. Our research addresses this knowledge gap, and we have shown that glucocorticoid resistance is related to negatively biased emotional memory and related neural circuitry. Importantly, we have also shown that cortisol augmentation ameliorates negative memory bias in depression, particularly in glucocorticoid resistant individuals. Taken together, these findings suggest that glucocorticoid resistance is related to core psychological features of depression, and that boosting cortisol signal may be psychologically beneficial in glucocorticoid resistant individuals with depression.


Learning objectives:

  • Debunk popular notions of cortisol as unequivocally harmful
  • Understand the relation between cortisol and psychological functions relevant to depression
  • Understand that cortisol augmentation may be beneficial in depression

Accreditation Statement

In support of improving patient care, the University of Wisconsin-Madison ICEP is jointly accredited by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME), the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE), and the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) to provide continuing education for the healthcare team.

Credit Designation Statement:

The University of Wisconsin-Madison ICEP designates this live activity for a maximum of 1.0 AMA PRA Category 1 Credit(s)TM.  Physicians should claim only the credit commensurate with the extent of their participation in the activity. The University of Wisconsin–Madison ICEP, as a member of the University Professional & Continuing Education Association (UPCEA), authorizes this program for 0.1 CEUs or 1.0 hour.


August 23, 2019
12:00 pm - 1:15 pm
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Jennifer Noll