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PURPOSE: The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis exerts many actions on the central nervous system (CNS) aside from stress regulation. Glucocorticoids (GCs) play an important role in affecting several cognitive functions through the effects on both glucocorticoid (GR) and mineralocorticoid receptors (MR). In this review, we aim to unravel the spectrum of cognitive dysfunction secondary to derangement of circulating levels of endogenous and exogenous glucocorticoids. METHODS: All relevant human prospective and retrospective studies published up to 2022 in PubMed reporting information on HPA disorders, GCs, and cognition were included. RESULTS: Cognitive impairment is commonly found in GC-related disorders. The main brain areas affected are the hippocampus and pre-frontal cortex, with memory being the most affected domain. Disease duration, circadian rhythm disruption, circulating GCs levels, and unbalanced MR/GR activation are all risk factors for cognitive decline in these patients, albeit with conflicting data among different conditions. Lack of normalization of cognitive dysfunction after treatment is potentially attributable to GC-dependent structural brain alterations, which can persist even after long-term remission. CONCLUSION: The recognition of cognitive deficits in patients with GC-related disorders is challenging, often delayed, or mistaken. Prompt recognition and treatment of underlying disease may be important to avoid a long-lasting impact on GC-sensitive areas of the brain. However, the resolution of hormonal imbalance is not always followed by complete recovery, suggesting irreversible adverse effects on the CNS, for which there are no specific treatments. Further studies are needed to find the mechanisms involved, which may eventually be targeted for treatment strategies.

Original publication




Journal article


J Endocrinol Invest

Publication Date



Adrenal insufficiency, Brain, Cognition, Cushing syndrome, Glucocorticoid receptor, Mineralocorticoid receptor