Prenatal cocaine exposure (PCE) is associated with blunted stress responsivity within the extrauterine environment. This study investigated the association between PCE and diurnal salivary cortisol levels in preadolescent children characterized by high biological and/or social risk (N = 725). Saliva samples were collected at their home. Analyses revealed no group differences in basal evening or morning cortisol levels; however, children with higher degrees of PCE exhibited blunted overnight increases in cortisol, controlling for additional risk factors. Race and caregiver depression were also associated with diurnal cortisol patterns. While repeated PCE may contribute to alterations in the normal or expected stress response later in life, sociodemographic and environmental factors are likewise important in understanding hormone physiology, especially as more time elapses from the PCE. Anticipating the potential long-term medical, developmental, or behavioral effects of an altered ability to mount a normal protective cortisol stress response is essential in optimizing the outcomes of children with PCE.
The current study examines the relationship between maternal depression and infant cortisol concentrations. The potential roles of comorbid maternal anxiety disorders, timing of maternal depression, and maternal treatment with psychotropic medications during pregnancy are addressed.
Women with 6-month-old infants (105 boys and 84 girls) participated in a laboratory paradigm that included infant saliva collection at six points, noise burst and arm restraint stressor tasks, and a diagnostic interview of the mother.
Lifetime history of maternal depression was associated with increased baseline and mean (average) infant cortisol levels. Comorbidity with anxiety disorder was related to infant cortisol reactivity. Peripartum (prepartum and/or postpartum) maternal depression, rather than a pre-pregnancy history of disorder, was associated with higher infant cortisol reactivity. Prenatal and postnatal exposure to maternal disorder had similar effects, but prenatal maternal psychotropic medication treatment appeared to attenuate infant cortisol increases associated with prenatal maternal disorder exposure.
These data suggest that exposure to maternal depression and anxiety during pregnancy and the postpartum period may increase infant salivary cortisol. This maternal depression–infant cortisol association is independent of the effects of delivery complications, and appears to be modulated by prenatal maternal psychotropic treatment.
Anxiety; cortisol; depression; infant; perinatal; prenatal; psychotropic; stress
We examined the association between prenatal exposure to cigarettes and adrenocortical responses to stress in 7-month old infants. Cortisol levels were assessed twice prior to and twice following affect-eliciting procedures in 111 (59 exposed and 52 nonexposed) infants. Cortisol reactivity was defined as the difference between the peak poststressor cortical level and the pretask cortisol level. Higher values indicated higher cortisol reactivity. Exposed infants had higher peak cortisol reactivity than non exposed infants. There were no differences in pretask cortisol levels. Maternal hostility mediated the association between cigarette exposure and peak cortisol reactivity. Furthermore, infant gender moderated this association such that exposed boys had significantly higher peak cortisol reactivity than nonexposed infants or exposed girls. These findings provide additional evidence that prenatal cigarette exposure is associated with dysregulation during infancy and that early adverse, non-social experiences may have relatively long-lasting effects on cortisol reactivity in infants.
Prenatal Cigarette Exposure; Infant; Stress Responses; HPA Axis; Reactivity; Maternal Hostility; Sex Differences
Prenatal cocaine exposure is associated with alterations in arousal regulation in response to stress in young children. However, relations between cocaine exposure and stress response in adolescence have not been examined. We examined salivary cortisol, self-reported emotion, heart rate, and blood pressure (BP) responses to the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) in 49 Prenatally Cocaine and other drug Exposed (PCE) and 33 Non Cocaine Exposed (NCE) adolescents. PCE adolescents had higher cortisol levels before and after stress exposure than NCE adolescents. PCE girls showed an elevated anxiety response to stress (compared to NCE girls) and PCE boys showed a dampened diastolic BP response (compared to NCE boys). Girls showed higher anger response and lower pre-stress systolic BP than boys. Group differences were found controlling for potential confounding variables and were not moderated by caregiver-child relationship quality (although relationship quality predicted HPA-Axis and anxiety response). Findings suggest that prenatal drug exposure is associated with altered stress response in adolescence and that gender moderates this association.
Prenatal cocaine exposure; Stress response; Cortisol; Emotion; Sex differences
This study examined the effects of prenatal cocaine exposure on infant hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis activity and reactivity at 7 months of infant age. Participants were 168 caregiver-infant dyads (87 cocaine exposed, 81 not cocaine exposed; 47% boys). Maternal behavior, caregiving instability, and infant growth and behavior were assessed, and children's saliva was sampled before, during, and after standardized procedures designed to elicit emotional arousal. Results revealed cocaine-exposed infants had a high amplitude trajectory of cortisol reactivity compared to non-cocaine-exposed infants. Infant gender and caregiving instability moderated this association. The findings support a dual hazard vulnerability model and have implications for evolutionary-developmental theories of individual differences in biological sensitivity to context.
A few recent studies have demonstrated heightened hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis reactivity to acute stress in animals exposed to heavy metal contaminants, particularly lead. However, Pb-induced dysregulation of the HPA axis has not yet been studied in humans.
In this study, we examined children’s cortisol response to acute stress (the glucocorticoid product of HPA activation) in relation to low-level prenatal and postnatal Pb exposure.
Children’s prenatal blood Pb levels were determined from cord blood specimens, and postnatal lead levels were abstracted from pediatrician and state records. Children’s adrenocortical responses to an acute stressor were measured using assays of salivary cortisol before and after administration of a standard cold pressor task.
Pb exposure was not associated with initial salivary cortisol levels. After an acute stressor, however, increasing prenatal and postnatal blood Pb levels were independently associated with significantly heightened salivary cortisol responses.
Our results suggest that relatively low prenatal and postnatal blood lead levels—notably those below the 10 μg/dL blood lead level identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for public health purposes—can alter children’s adrenocortical responses to acute stress. The behavioral and health consequences of this Pb-induced HPA dysregulation in children have yet to be determined.
adrenocortical; children; cortisol; HPA axis; lead; metal pollution; Pb; stress
Reports from clinical and experimental (animal) research converge on the suggestion that prenatal exposure to alcohol, cocaine, or marijuana undermines executive functioning (EF) and its neurological underpinnings. However, large, adequately controlled, prospective studies of alcohol and marijuana effects on EF have reported conflicting findings, and there have been no such studies of cocaine exposure.
EF was investigated in a cohort (n = 316) of 4-year-old children the majority of whose mothers had used varying combinations of cocaine, alcohol, and marijuana during pregnancy. With use of postpartum maternal report and biological assay, children were assigned to overlapping prenatal cocaine-exposed, alcohol-exposed, and marijuana-exposed groups and to complementary control groups. The postnatal environmental assessment included measures of maternal intellectual and psychosocial functioning, current drug or alcohol use, and home environment.
The children in the alcohol-exposed group had worse tapping-inhibition performance than children in the non–alcohol-exposed group, and this effect persisted when potential confounding environmental variables, other drug variables, and concurrent verbal intelligence were controlled for.
Prenatal alcohol is predictive of decreased EF in early childhood that could not be attributed to environmental factors. The results are discussed in terms of the age and overall high-risk status of the children.
Alcohol; Inhibition; Frontal; Prenatal; Cocaine
Sleep data were collected by maternal report in a prospective longitudinal follow-up of cocaine exposed and unexposed children. There were 139 subjects: 23 with no prenatal drug exposure, 55 exposed to cocaine alone or in combination with other drugs, and 61 exposed to drugs other than cocaine. Characteristics differed between exposure groups, including birth size, caretaker changes, and maternal SES and postnatal drug use. Compared to those with no drug exposure, children with prenatal drug exposure other than cocaine experienced greater sleep problems (mean [SD], 5 [4.93] vs 7.7 [4.85], p = .026). Prenatal nicotine exposure was a unique predictor of sleep problems (R2 = .028, p = .048). Early sleep problems predicted later sleep problems (all p’s <.01). Together, these preliminary findings suggest possible neurotoxic sleep effects that persist over time. Larger studies, however, need to be conducted that better control for potential postnatal confounding factors.
Cortisol is a hormone involved in mounting a stress response in humans. The evidence of stress reactivity among young children has been mixed, however. In the present study, the order of two laboratory tasks (i.e., Strange Situation and play) was counterbalanced, and home saliva samples were obtained. Saliva samples were also collected upon the children's arrival at the laboratory and at 40, 65, and 80 min after arrival. The authors examined changes in cortisol using piecewise hierarchical linear modeling, testing whether observed increases reflected a return to baseline or stress reactivity. An interaction between attachment disorganization and task emerged, such that disorganized infants showed increases in cortisol in response to the stressor compared with play, whereas organized infants did not show cortisol reactivity to either task. Implications for the buffering effects of maternal care on stress reactivity are discussed.
cortisol; stress response; HPA system; attachment
While community violence has been linked to psychological morbidity in urban youth, data on the physiological correlates of violence and associated posttraumatic stress symptoms are sparse. We examined the influence of child posttraumatic stress symptoms reported in relationship to community violence exposure on diurnal salivary cortisol response in a population based sample of 28 girls and 15 boys ages 7–13, 54% self-identified as white and 46% as Hispanic.
Mothers’ reported on the child’s exposure to community violence using the Survey of Children’s Exposure to Community Violence and completed the Checklist of Children’s Distress Symptoms (CCDS) which captures factors related to posttraumatic stress; children who were eight years of age or greater reported on their own community violence exposure. Saliva samples were obtained from the children four times a day (after awakening, lunch, dinner and bedtime) over three days. Mixed models were used to assess the influence of posttraumatic stress symptoms on cortisol expression, examined as diurnal slope and Area Under the Curve (AUC), calculated across the day, adjusting for socio-demographics.
In adjusted analyses, higher scores on total traumatic stress symptoms (CCDS) were associated with both greater cortisol AUC and with a flatter cortisol waking to bedtime rhythm. The associations were primarily attributable to differences on the intrusion, arousal and avoidance CCDS subscales.
Posttraumatic stress symptomatology reported in response to community violence exposure was associated with diurnal cortisol disruption in these community-dwelling urban children.
community violence; cortisol rhythm; posttraumatic stress symptoms
The consequences of prenatal maternal stress for infant mental and motor development were examined in 125 full term infants at 3, 6 and12 months of age. Maternal cortisol and psychological state were evaluated five times during pregnancy and at 3, 6 and 12 months postpartum. Exposure to elevated concentrations of cortisol early in gestation was associated with a slower rate of development over the first postnatal year and lower scores on the mental development index of the Bayley Scales of Infant Development (BSID) at 12 months. Elevated levels of maternal cortisol late in gestation, however, were associated with accelerated development over the first year and higher scores on the BSID at 12 months. Elevated levels of maternal pregnancy specific anxiety early in pregnancy were independently associated with lower scores on the BSID at 12 months. These associations could not be explained by postnatal maternal psychological stress, stress related to parenting, prenatal medical history, socioeconomic factors or child race, sex or birth order. These data suggest that maternal cortisol and pregnancy specific anxiety have programming influences on the developing fetus. Prenatal exposure to the same signal, cortisol, had opposite associations with infant development based on the timing of exposure.
pregnancy; cortisol; stress; infant development; cognition; prenatal; depression; anxiety; fetal programming
There is significant current interest in the degree to which prenatal exposures, including maternal psychological factors, influence child outcomes. Studies that detect an association between prenatal maternal psychological distress and child developmental outcomes are subject to a number of interpretative challenges in the inference of causality. Some of these are common to many types of prenatal exposures that must necessarily rely on observational designs. Such challenges include the correlation between prenatal and postnatal exposures and the potential role of other sources of shared influence, such as genetic factors. Others are more specific to this area of research. These include: confounding between maternal report of child outcomes and the maternal psychological attributes under study; difficulties in distinguishing maternal stress from more ubiquitous aspects of maternal personality; and the lack of association between cortisol and measures of maternal psychological stress. This article considers these methodological issues and offers an additional methodology focused on fetal neurobehavior for discerning potential mechanisms that may mediate associations between maternal psychological functioning and the developing fetal nervous system.
Pregnancy; fetus; prenatal stress; fetal development; fetal behavior; programming
This study evaluated how enrollment in special education services in 11 year old children relates to prenatal cocaine exposure, psychopathology, and other risk factors.
Participants were 498 children enrolled in The Maternal Lifestyle Study, a prospective, longitudinal, multisite study examining outcomes of children with prenatal cocaine exposure. Logistic regression was used to examine the effect of prenatal cocaine exposure and psychopathology on enrollment in an individualized education plan (a designation specific to children with special education needs), with environmental, maternal, and infant medical variables as covariates.
Prenatal cocaine exposure, an interaction of prenatal cocaine exposure and Oppositional Defiant Disorder, child Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, parent-reported internalizing behaviors, and teacher-reported externalizing behaviors, predicted enrollment in an individualized education plan. Other statistically significant variables in the model were male gender, low birth weight, being small for gestational age, white race, caregiver change, low socio-economic status, low child intelligence quotient, caregiver depression, and prenatal marijuana exposure.
Prenatal cocaine exposure increased the likelihood of receiving an individualized education plan with adjustment for covariates. Psychopathology also predicted this special education outcome, in combination with and independent of prenatal cocaine exposure.
cocaine; special education; behavior; prenatal substance exposure
Previous studies have reported lower basal cortisol levels and reduced cortisol responses to stress in children and adolescents with conduct disorder (CD). It is not known whether these findings are specific to early-onset CD. This study investigated basal and stress-induced cortisol secretion in male participants with early-onset and adolescence-onset forms of CD.
Forty-two participants with early-onset CD, 28 with adolescence-onset CD, and 95 control subjects participated in the study. They collected saliva across the day to assess their cortisol awakening response and diurnal rhythm. Subsequently, salivary cortisol was measured before, during, and after a psychosocial stress procedure designed to elicit frustration. Cardiovascular activity and subjective mood states were also assessed during stress exposure.
There were no group differences in morning cortisol levels or the size of the cortisol awakening response. Basal cortisol levels in the evening and at 11 am during the laboratory visit were higher in both CD subgroups relative to control subjects. In contrast, cortisol and cardiovascular responses to psychosocial stress were reduced in both CD subgroups compared with control subjects. All groups reported similar increases in negative mood states during stress.
Our findings suggest that group differences in cortisol secretion are most pronounced during stress exposure, when participants with CD show cortisol hyporeactivity compared with control subjects. There was no evidence for reduced basal cortisol secretion in participants with CD, but rather increased secretion at specific time points. The results do not support developmentally sensitive differences in cortisol secretion between CD subtypes.
Antisocial behavior; conduct disorder; cortisol; cortisol awakening response; HPA axis; stress reactivity
The goal of the present study was to examine the specificity of pathways among interparental violence, maternal emotional unavailability, and children’s cortisol reactivity to emotional stressors within the interparental and parent-child relationships. The study also tested whether detrimental family contexts were associated on average with hypocortisolism or hypercortisolism responses to stressful family interactions in young children. Participants included 201 toddlers and their mothers from impoverished backgrounds who experienced disproportionate levels of family violence. Assessments of interparental violence were derived from maternal surveys and interviews, whereas maternal emotional unavailability was assessed through maternal reports and observer ratings of caregiving. Salivary cortisol levels were sampled at three timepoints before and after laboratory paradigms designed to elicit children’s reactivity to stressful interparental and parent-child contexts. Results indicated that interparental violence and mother’s emotional unavailability were differentially associated with children’s adrenocorticol stress reactivity. Furthermore, these family risk contexts predicted lower cortisol change in response to distress. The results are interpreted in the context of risky family and emotional security theory conceptualizations that underscore how family contexts differentially impact children’s physiological regulatory capacities.
Experimental animal models have demonstrated that one of the primary consequences of prenatal stress is increased fear and anxiety in the offspring. Few prospective human studies have evaluated the consequences of prenatal stress on anxiety during preadolescence. The purpose of this investigation is to determine the consequences of prenatal exposure to both maternal biological stress signals and psychological distress on anxiety in preadolescent children. Participants included 178 mother-child pairs. Maternal psychological distress (general anxiety, perceived stress, depression and pregnancy-specific anxiety) and biological stress signals were evaluated at 19, 25, and 31 gestational weeks. Anxiety was evaluated in the children at 6 to 9 years of age using the Child Behavior Checklist. Analyses revealed that prenatal exposure to elevated maternal cortisol, depression, perceived stress and pregnancy-specific anxiety was associated with increased anxiety in children. These associations remained after considering obstetric, sociodemographic and postnatal maternal psychological distress; factors that could influence child development. When all of the prenatal measures were considered together, cortisol and pregnancy-specific anxiety independently predicted child anxiety. Children exposed to elevated prenatal maternal cortisol and pregnancy-specific anxiety were at an increased risk for developing anxiety problems during the preadolescent period. This project identifies prenatal risk factors associated with lasting consequences for child mental health and raises the possibility that reducing maternal distress during the prenatal period will have long term benefits for child well-being.
anxiety; development; fetal programming; prenatal; cortisol; stress; pregnancy
Biobehavioral models of prenatal stress highlight the importance of the stress-related hormone cortisol. However, the association between maternal cortisol levels and length of human gestation require further investigation because most previous studies have relied on one-time cortisol measures assessed at varying gestational ages. This study assessed whether ecological momentary assessment (EMA) of cortisol sampling improves the ability to predict the length of human gestation. In addition, associations between EMA based measures of psychological state (negative affect) with cortisol levels during pregnancy were assessed.
Over a 4-day period, 25 healthy pregnant women (mean gestational age at assessment 23.4 ± 9.1 weeks) collected 7 salivary samples per day for assessment of cortisol and provided a rating of negative affect every waking hour using an electronic diary.
Higher salivary cortisol concentrations at awakening and throughout the day (p=.001) as well as a flatter cortisol response to awakening (p=.005) were associated with shorter length of gestation. Women delivering at 36 weeks gestations had 13% higher salivary cortisol levels at awakening than women delivering at 41 weeks gestation. The EMA-based measure of negative affect was associated with higher cortisol throughout the day (p=.006), but not to gestational length (p=.641). The one-time measure of cortisol was not associated with length of gestation, and traditional retrospective recall measures of negative affect were not associated with cortisol.
Our findings support the ecological validity of repeated ambulatory assessments of cortisol in pregnancy and their ability to improve the prediction of adverse birth outcomes.
cortisol; cortisol awakening response (CAR); hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis; ecological momentary assessment (EMA); pregnancy; length of gestation; negative affect
To examine the relationships between sleep problems and prenatal exposure to cocaine, opiates, marijuana, alcohol, and nicotine in children 1 month to 12 years of age.
Sleep data was collected by maternal report in a prospective longitudinal follow-up of children participating in the Maternal Lifestyle multisite study.
Hospital based research centers in Providence, RI, Miami, FL, Detroit, MI, and Memphis, TN
There were 808 participants: 374 exposed to cocaine and/or opiates; 434 comparison.
Prenatal cocaine, opiate, marijuana, alcohol, and nicotine exposure.
Sleep problems in early, middle, and late childhood, assessed as composites of maternal report items.
Of the five substances, prenatal nicotine exposure was the only unique predictor of sleep problems (B = .074, R2 Δ = .008, p = .012) with adjustment for covariates including SES, marital status, physical abuse, prenatal medical care, and postnatal cigarette smoke exposure.
Prenatal exposure to nicotine was positively associated with children's sleep problems persisting throughout the first 12 years of life. Targeting this group of children for educational and behavioral efforts to prevent and treat sleep problems is merited given that good sleep may serve as a protective factor for other developmental outcomes.
Low socioeconomic status (SES) is associated with increased risk for adverse health outcomes; those with low SES are thought to experience more environmental disadvantage and exposure to chronic stress over the life course. The effects of chronic stress on health have been measured by cortisol levels and variations in their diurnal pattern. However, the patterns of association between SES and cortisol have been equivocal in older adults. This paper examined in 98 older adults participating in the Brain Health Substudy of the Baltimore Experience Corps Trial baseline patterns of diurnal variation in salivary cortisol associated with lower versus higher SES using total income and perceived SES relative to others. For each measure, participants stratified into lower vs. higher SES showed a more blunted rate of decline in diurnal salivary cortisol over the day in adjusted models (P values ≤ 0.05). There were no SES-related differences in awakening cortisol, cortisol awakening response, or area under the curve. These findings confirm prior evidence of a biologic pathway through which socioeconomic disadvantage is linked to biologic vulnerability, and through which the impact of volunteer service in Experience Corps may be measured.
socioeconomic status; salivary cortisol; stress; diurnal pattern; HPA axis; resilience
Maternal stress during pregnancy is associated with negative maternal/child outcomes. One potential biomarker of the maternal stress response is cortisol, a product of activity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. This study evaluated cortisol levels in hair throughout pregnancy as a marker of total cortisol release. Cortisol levels in hair have been shown to be easily quantifiable and may be representative of total cortisol release more than single saliva or serum measures. Hair cortisol provides a simple way to monitor total cortisol release over an extended period of time. Hair cortisol levels were determined from each trimester (15, 26 and 36 wks gestation) and 3 months postpartum. Hair cortisol levels were compared to diurnal salivary cortisol collected over 3 days (3 times/day) at 14, 18, 23, 29, and 34 wks gestational age and 6 wks postpartum from 21 pregnant women. Both salivary and hair cortisol levels rose during pregnancy as expected. Hair cortisol and diurnal salivary cortisol area under the curve with respect to ground (AUCg) were also correlated throughout pregnancy. Levels of cortisol in hair are a valid and useful tool to measure long-term cortisol activity. Hair cortisol avoids methodological problems associated with collection other cortisol measures such as plasma, urine, or saliva and is a reliable metric of HPA activity throughout pregnancy reflecting total cortisol release over an extended period.
hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis; stress biomarkers; thrifty phenotype; early programming
This study examined the role of maternal psychopathology and maternal warmth as mediators of the association between prenatal cocaine and other substance exposure and toddler behavior problems. It was also hypothesized that infant cortisol reactivity and environmental risk may moderate these associations. Participants were 220 caregiver–infant dyads (119 cocaine exposed, 101 not cocaine exposed; 49% boys). Mother–infant dyads were recruited at delivery with assessments at 4–8 weeks and 7, 13, and 18 months of child ages. Results yielded no direct associations between prenatal cocaine/other substance exposure and toddler behavior problems, but significant indirect associations between prenatal cigarette/alcohol exposure and toddler behavior problems at 18 months. With regard to moderation, results indicated an indirect association between prenatal cocaine exposure and toddler behavior problems via lower maternal warmth for children with higher, but not lower, cortisol reactivity at 7 months. Results suggest potential pathways to toddler behavior problems among children at high biological risk.
The purpose of this report is to examine the effect of exposure to violence on cortisol reactivity in children with no identified serious mental health problems or reports of maltreatment. Exposure to violence was hypothesized to influence development of the stress system in this sample of youth as has been demonstrated in maltreated youth.
The sample consisted of 124 adolescents, ages 8 to 13 years. Data were collected at two waves of measurement, 12 months apart. Exposure to violence was operationalized as the number of different violent events each child was exposed to as a witness or victim. Cortisol reactivity was evaluated in relation to the Trier Social Stress Test for Children.
Exposure to violence occurring over the 12 months prior to the first assessment is predictive of cortisol reactivity 12 months later in males, even after controlling for age and Time 1 symptoms of psychopathology, cortisol reactivity, and lifetime exposure to violence. Lifetime exposure to violence at Time 1 is positively correlated with symptoms of Major Depressive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder in both sexes.
The unique aspect of the current findings is that typically, research studying the effects of exposure to violence is conducted with a clinical or maltreated sample. The findings show that recent exposure to violence has an effect on reactions to a laboratory stressor and has longer-term negative mental health consequences. Further study is needed to determine whether these effects are enduring or a shorter-term adaptive response to exposure to violence.
Cortisol; Stress; Violence; Adolescence
Early life stress (ELS) is expected to increase reactivity of the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenocortical (HPA) axis; however, several recent studies have shown diminished cortisol reactivity among adults and children with ELS exposure. The goal of this study was to examine cortisol activity in 10–12-year-old internationally adopted children to determine if moderate and severe ELS have different impacts on the HPA axis. Salivary cortisol and two measures of autonomic activity were collected in response to the Trier Social Stress Test for Children (TSST-C). Three groups reflecting moderate, severe, and little ELS were studied: early adopted children who came predominantly from foster care overseas (early adopted/foster care (EA/FC), n = 44), later adopted children cared for predominantly in orphanages overseas (late adopted/post-institutionalized (LA/PI), n = 42) and non-adopted (NA) children reared continuously by their middle- to upper-income parents in the United States (n = 38). Diminished cortisol activity was noted for the EA/FC group (moderate ELS), while the LA/PI group (severe ELS) did not differ from the NA group. Overall, few children showed cortisol elevations to the TSST-C in any group. The presence/absence of severe growth delay at adoption proved to be a critical predictive factor in cortisol activity. Regardless of growth delay, however, LA/PI children exhibited higher sympathetic tone than did NA children. These results suggest that moderate ELS is associated with diminished cortisol activity; however, marked individual differences in cortisol activity among the LA/PI children suggest that child factors modify the impact of severe ELS. Lack of effects of severe ELS even for growth delayed children may reflect the restorative effects of adoption or the generally low responsiveness of this age group to the TSST-C.
Cortisol; Group-based trajectory modeling; Growth curve modeling; Linear mixed modeling; Early life stress; Internationally adopted children
We previously reported an association between prenatal cocaine exposure (PCE) and childhood behavior problems as observed by the parent or caretaker. However, these behavior problems may not manifest in a structured environment, such as a school setting.
We determined whether there is an association between PCE and school behavior problems and whether ratings of behavior problems from the teacher differ from those noted by the parent or caretaker.
The Maternal Lifestyle Study, a multicenter study, enrolled 1388 children with and without PCE at one month of age for longitudinal assessment. Teachers masked to prenatal drug exposure status completed the Teacher Report Form (TRF/6-18) when children were 7, 9, and 11 years old. We also administered the Child Behavior Checklist-parent report (CBCL) to the parent/caretaker at same ages and then at 13 years. We performed latent growth curve modeling to determine whether high PCE will predict externalizing, internalizing, total behavior, and attention problems at 7 years of age and whether changes in problems' scores over time differ between those exposed and non-exposed from both teacher and parent report. Besides levels of PCE as predictors, we controlled for the following covariates, namely: site, child characteristics (gender and other prenatal drug exposures), family level influences (maternal age, depression and psychological symptomatology, continuing drug use, exposure to domestic violence, home environment, and socioeconomic status), and community level factors (neighborhood and community violence).
The mean behavior problem T scores from the teacher report were significantly higher than ratings by the parent or caretaker. Latent growth curve modeling revealed a significant relationship between intercepts of problem T scores from teacher and parent ratings; i.e., children that were rated poorly by teachers were also rated poorly by their parent/caretaker or vice versa. After controlling for covariates, we found high PCE to be a significant predictor of with higher externalizing behavior problem T scores from both parent and teacher report at 7 years (p=0.034 and p=0.021, respectively) in comparison to non-PCE children. These differences in scores from either teacher or caregiver were stable through subsequent years or did not change significantly over time. Boys had higher T scores than girls on internalizing and total problems by caretaker report; they also had significantly higher T scores for internalizing, total, and attention problems by teacher ratings; the difference was marginally significant for externalizing behavior (p=0.070). Caretaker postnatal use of tobacco, depression, and community violence were significant predictors of all behavior problems rated by parent/caretaker, while lower scores on the home environment predicted all behavior outcomes by the teacher report.
Children with high PCE are likely to manifest externalizing behavior problems; their behavior problem scores at 7 years from either report of teacher or parent remained higher than scores of non-exposed children on subsequent years. Screening and identification of behavior problems at earlier ages could make possible initiation of intervention, while considering the likely effects of other confounders.
Prenatal exposure to women’s mood dysregulation is associated with variation in neurobehavioral profiles in children. Few studies have assessed these relationships during the prenatal period.
In 113 women in the 36th – 38th gestational week (mean age 26.3 ± 5.4 years), electrocardiogram, blood pressure, respiration, salivary cortisol, and fetal heart rate (HR) were measured during baseline, a psychological challenge (Stroop color–word matching task), and a standardized paced breathing protocol. Subjects underwent the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV prior to testing and were grouped as: depressed, co–morbid for depression and anxiety, anxiety disorder only, and control.
There was a significant main effect of maternal diagnostic group on fetal HR only during the Stroop task: fetuses of women in the co–morbid group had a greater HR increase compared to controls (p < .05). Overall, fetuses showed robust increases in HR during paced breathing (p < .0001), but there was no significant difference by maternal diagnosis. For both tasks, changes in fetal HR were independent of women’s concurrent cardiorespiratory activity. Finally, although cortisol was higher in the co-morbid group (p <.05), independent of diagnosis, there was a trend for maternal baseline cortisol to be positively associated with average fetal HR (p = .08).
These findings indicate that variation in fetal HR reactivity — an index of emerging regulatory capacities — is likely influenced by multiple acute and chronic factors associated with women’s psychobiology.
Fetal heart rate; fetal neurobehavioral development; antenatal depression; maternal stress; fetal programming