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Atypical evening cortisol profile induces visual recognition memory deficit in healthy human subjects

Heather Gilpin12, Daniel Whitcomb23 and Kwangwook Cho123*

Author Affiliations

1 Biomedical Science, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, S10 2TN, UK

2 Henry Wellcome Laboratories for Integrative Neuroscience and Endocrinology, UK

3 The MRC Centre for Synaptic Plasticity, University of Bristol, Bristol, BS1 3NY, UK

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Molecular Brain 2008, 1:4  doi:10.1186/1756-6606-1-4

Published: 21 August 2008



Diurnal rhythm-mediated endogenous cortisol levels in humans are characterised by a peak in secretion after awakening that declines throughout the day to an evening trough. However, a significant proportion of the population exhibits an atypical cycle of diurnal cortisol due to shift work, jet-lag, aging, and mental illness.


The present study has demonstrated a correlation between elevation of cortisol in the evening and deterioration of visual object recognition memory. However, high evening cortisol levels have no effect on spatial memory.


This study suggests that atypical evening salivary cortisol levels have an important role in the early deterioration of recognition memory. The loss of recognition memory, which is vital for everyday life, is a major symptom of the amnesic syndrome and early stages of Alzheimer's disease. Therefore, this study will promote a potential physiologic marker of early deterioration of recognition memory and a possible diagnostic strategy for Alzheimer's disease.