Individuals differ widely in cortisol output over the day, but the etiology of these individual differences remains poorly understood. Twin studies are useful for quantifying genetic and environmental influences on variation in cortisol output, lending insight into underlying influences on the components of Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis functioning.
Salivary cortisol was assayed on 446 twin pairs (157 monozygotic, 289 dizygotic; ages 7–8). Parents helped youth collect saliva 30 min after waking, mid-afternoon, and 30 minutes prior to bedtime across 3 consecutive days. We used hierarchical linear modeling to extract predicted cortisol levels and to distinguish cortisol’s diurnal rhythm using a slopes-as-outcome piecewise growth curve model; two slopes captured the morning-to-afternoon and afternoon-to-evening rhythm, respectively. Separate genetic models were then fit to cortisol level at waking, mid-afternoon, and evening as well as the diurnal rhythm across morning-to-afternoon and afternoon-to-evening hours.
Three results from these analyses are striking. First, morning-to-afternoon cortisol level showed the highest additive genetic variance (heritability), consistent with prior research. Second, cortisol’s diurnal rhythm had an additive genetic component, particularly across the morning-to-afternoon hours. In contrast, additive genetic variation did not significantly contribute to variation in afternoon-to-evening slope. Third, the majority of variance in cortisol concentration was associated with shared family environments. In summary, both genetic and environmental factors influence cortisol’s circadian rhythm, and they do so differentially across the day.
HPA axis; cortisol; diurnal rhythm; twins; behavior genetics
The concept of allostasis suggests that greater cumulative stress burden can influence stress-responsive physiology. Dysregulation of allostatic mediators, including the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, is thought to precede many other signs of age-related pathology as the persistent burden of stressors accumulates over the individual's lifespan. We predicted that even in young adulthood, HPA regulation would differ between Blacks and Whites reflecting, in part, higher rates of stressor exposure and greater potential for stressors to “get under the skin”. We examined whether stressor exposure, including experiences with racism and discrimination, explained race differences in waking cortisol and the diurnal rhythm. We also examined whether HPA functioning was associated with mental health outcomes previously linked to cortisol. Salivary cortisol was assayed in 275 young adults (127 Blacks, 148 Whites, 19 to 22 years old), four times a day across 3 days. Hierarchical linear models revealed flatter slopes for Blacks, reflecting significantly lower waking and higher bedtime cortisol levels compared to Whites. Associations of HPA functioning with stressors were typically more robust for Whites such that more stress exposure created an HPA profile that resembled that of Black young adults. For Blacks, greater stressor exposure did not further impact HPA functioning, or, when significant, was often associated with higher cortisol levels. Across both races, flatter slopes generally indicated greater HPA dysregulation and were associated with poor mental health outcomes. These differential effects were more robust for Whites. These findings support an allostatic model in which social contextual factors influence normal biorhythms, even as early as young adulthood.
allostasis; cortisol; race differences; HPA axis
Age-associated alterations in hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis functioning may make individuals more susceptible to HPA dysregulation in the context of mood and anxiety disorders. Little to no research has been done to examine HPA axis function in generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), particularly in late-life GAD, the most prevalent anxiety disorder in the elderly. The study sample consisted of 71 GAD subjects and 40 nonanxious comparison subjects over 60 years of age. We examined the hypotheses that elderly individuals with GAD will have elevated salivary cortisol levels compared to nonanxious subjects, and that elevated cortisol levels in GAD will be associated with measures of symptom severity. We report that late-life GAD is characterized by elevated basal salivary cortisol levels, with higher peak cortisol levels and larger areas under the curve, compared to nonanxious subjects. Additionally, severity of GAD as measured by the GAD Severity Scale and the Penn State Worry Questionnaire are positively correlated with cortisol levels. These data demonstrate HPA axis dysfunction in late-life GAD and suggest the need for additional research on the influence of aging on HPA axis function in mood and anxiety disorders.
Cortisol; Generalized anxiety disorder; Elderly; Worry; HPA axis; Saliva
Disruptions in hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal regulation and immunity have been associated with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). We examined the association of PTSD with diurnal rhythms in salivary cortisol in a convenience sample from a population-based study of male and female American Indians. Subjects with and without PTSD were identified from American Indians living on/near a Northern Plains reservation as part of a larger study. Over two days diurnal saliva samples were collected by staff at the University of Colorado Denver Clinical Research Center at waking, 30 minutes after waking, before lunch, and before dinner. Generalized estimating equations linear regression models investigated the influence of PTSD on cortisol over time. The association of a lifetime diagnosis of PTSD with salivary cortisol level was assessed in subjects with complete data (PTSD: n=27; no PTSD n=32) for age, gender, and alcohol consumption in the past month. Subject mean age was 44 years, and 71% were women. When stratified by gender, women with a lifetime diagnosis of PTSD had significantly higher mean cortisol levels throughout the day than women without PTSD (p = 0.01); but there was no significant association between PTSD and cortisol levels in men (p = 0.36). The cortisol awakening response – the difference in cortisol levels from waking to 30 minutes after waking – was not associated with PTSD in men or women. A lifetime diagnosis of PTSD may influence diurnal cortisol among American Indian women. These effects were independent of influences of current alcohol use/abuse. The unexpected elevation in cortisol in American Indian women with a lifetime diagnosis of PTSD may reflect acute anxiety associated with experiencing a number of novel tests in a strange location (e.g., cardiac imaging, medical and dental exams, etc.), or concurrent depression.
Health disparities; Northern Plains Indians; cortisol awakening response
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is a common disorder in older adults which has been linked to hyperactivity of the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis in this age group. We examined whether treatment of GAD in older adults with a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) corrects this HPA axis hyperactivity.
We examined adults aged 60 and above with GAD in a 12-week randomized controlled trial comparing the SSRI escitalopram to placebo. We collected salivary cortisol at six daily timepoints for two consecutive days to assess peak and total (area under the curve) cortisol, both at baseline and post-treatment.
Compared with placebo-treated subjects, SSRI-treated subjects had a significantly greater reduction in both peak and total cortisol. This reduction in cortisol was limited to subjects with elevated (above the median) baseline cortisol, in whom SSRI-treated subjects showed substantially greater reduction in cortisol than did placebo-treated subjects. Reductions in cortisol were associated with improvements in anxiety. Additionally, genetic variability at the serotonin transporter promoter predicted cortisol changes.
SSRI treatment of GAD in older adults reduces HPA axis hyperactivity. Further research should determine whether these treatment-attributable changes are sustained and beneficial.
anxiety; cortisol; aging; health; stress; antidepressant
Tourette syndrome (TS) is characterized by motor and vocal tics, which are often exacerbated by stress. The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) axis, a major stress response system is thus of interest for understanding TS.
Diurnal cortisol rhythms were estimated in medication-free children 7-to-13 years with TS (N=20) and healthy age-matched controls (N=16). Salivary samples were collected on three consecutive days from the home. HPA responsivity was assessed by examining cortisol in response to a mock and real MRI scan.
The results of diurnal rhythmicity revealed a trend showing marginally lower evening cortisol for the TS group. By contrast, the TS group had higher cortisol levels in response to the stressor. There were strong, negative correlations between evening cortisol and tic severity as well as diurnal cortisol and anxiety.
The children with TS showed increased cortisol in response to the MRI environment, supporting a model of enhanced HPA responsivity. The lower evening cortisol may be the result of chronic daily stress. Alternatively, the negative associations between cortisol and reported anxiety and tics may reflect biologically-based anxiolytic properties of tic expression. Taken together, the results clearly implicate involvement of the HPA axis in the neuropathology of TS.
Tourette syndrome; cortisol; HPA axis; stress; anxiety; diurnal rhythm
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
High levels of cortisol, a sign of potential hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis dysregulation, have been associated with poor cognitive outcomes in older adults. Most cortisol research has focused on hippocampal-related abilities such as episodic memory; however, the presence of glucocorticoid receptors in the human prefrontal cortex suggests that cortisol regulation is likely to be associated with prefrontally-mediated executive function abilities. We hypothesized that elevated cortisol levels would be associated with poorer frontal-executive function in addition to episodic memory. We assessed cortisol from 15 saliva samples paralleling individual diurnal rhythms across three non-consecutive days in a group of 778 middle-aged twin men ages 51 to 60. Cognitive domains created from 24 standard measures included: general cognitive ability, verbal and visual-spatial ability, verbal and visual-spatial memory, short-term/immediate memory, working memory, executive function, verbal fluency, abstract reasoning, and psychomotor processing speed. Adjusting for general cognitive ability at age 20, age, race, and multiple health and lifestyle indicators, higher levels of average area-under-the-curve cortisol output across three days were significantly associated with poorer performance in three domains: executive (primarily set-shifting) measures, processing speed, and visual-spatial memory. In a 35-year longitudinal component of the study, we also found that general cognitive ability at age 20 was a significant predictor of midlife cortisol levels. These results possibly support the notion that glucocorticoid exposure is associated with cognitive functions that are mediated by frontal-striatal systems, and is not specific to hippocampal-dependent memory. The results also suggest that the direction of effect is complex.
Cortisol; HPA Axis; aging; cognition; cognitive aging; VETSA
The normal diurnal cortisol cycle has a peak in the morning, decreasing rapidly over the day, with low levels during the night, then rising rapidly again to the morning peak. A pattern of flatter daytime slopes has been associated with more rapid cancer progression in both animals and humans. We studied the relationship between the daytime slopes and other daytime cortisol responses to both pharmacological and psychosocial challenges of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis function as well as DHEA in a sample of 99 women with metastatic breast cancer, in hopes of elucidating the dysregulatory process.
We found that the different components of HPA regulation: the daytime cortisol slope, the rise in cortisol from waking to 30 minutes later, and cortisol response to various challenges, including dexamethasone (DEX) suppression, corticotrophin releasing factor (CRF) activation, and the Trier Social Stress Task, were at best modestly associated. Escape from suppression stimulated by 1 mg of dexamethasone administered the night before was moderately but significantly associated with flatter daytime cortisol slopes (r=0..28 to .30 at different times of the post dexamethasone administration day, all p<.01) . Daytime cortisol slopes were also moderately but significant associated with the rise in cortisol from waking to 30 minutes after awakening (r=.29, p=.004, N=96), but not with waking cortisol level (r=−0.13, p=.19). However, we could not detect any association between daytime cortisol slope and activation of cortisol secretion by either CRF infusion or the Trier Social Stress Task. The CRF activation test (following 1.5 mg of dexamethasone to assure that the effect was due to exogenous CRF) produced ACTH levels that were correlated (r=0.66 p<.0001, N = 74) with serum cortisol levels, indicating adrenal responsiveness to ACTH stimulation. Daytime cortisol slopes were significantly correlated with the slope of DHEA (r=.21, p=.04, N=95). Our general findings suggest that flatter daytime cortisol slopes among metastatic breast cancer patients may be related to disrupted feedback inhibition rather than hypersensitivity in response to stimulation.
Cortisol; HPA; stress; dexamethasone; CRF; metastatic breast cancer
Maternal psychological functioning during pregnancy affects both maternal and fetal well-being. The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis provides one mechanism through which maternal psychosocial factors may be transduced to the fetus. However, few studies have examined maternal psychological factors or birth outcomes in relation to the diurnal pattern of cortisol across the day. The current study examined maternal psychological well-being, parity status, and birth weight in relation to the maternal cortisol diurnal rhythm in a group of 98 low-risk pregnant women (51 primiparae). At 36 weeks gestation, participants completed both pregnancy-specific and general self-report measures of psychological functioning and provided saliva samples at 800, 1200, and 1600h on 2 consecutive working days for the assay of cortisol. The expected diurnal decline in salivary cortisol was observed. Higher trait anxiety was associated with a flatter afternoon decline for all mothers. For primiparae, steeper morning cortisol declines were associated with lower infant birth weight. The findings suggest that regulation of the HPA axis may differ by parity status with downstream implications for fetal growth and development.
cortisol diurnal rhythm; pregnancy; parity; fetus; anxiety; birth weight
Despite observations of age-dependent sexual dimorphisms in hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis activity, the role of androgens in the regulation of HPA axis activity in men has not been examined. We assessed this role by performing CRH stimulation tests in ten men (ages 18–45) during gonadal suppression with leuprolide acetate and during testosterone addition to leuprolide. CRH-stimulated cortisol levels as well as peak cortisol and greatest cortisol excursion were significantly lower (p < .05, .005, and .01, respectively) during testosterone replacement compared with the induced hypogonadal condition (leuprolide plus placebo); cortisol area under the curve was lower at a trend level (p < .1). Paradoxically, CRH-stimulated ACTH was increased significantly during testosterone replacement (p < .05). The cortisol:ACTH ratio, a measure of adrenal sensitivity, was lower during testosterone replacement (p < .1). A mixed effects regression model showed that testosterone but not estradiol or CBG significantly contributed to the variance of cortisol. These data demonstrate that testosterone regulates CRH-stimulated HPA axis activity in men, with the divergent effects on ACTH and cortisol suggesting a peripheral (adrenal) locus for the suppressive effects on cortisol. Our results further demonstrate that the enhanced stimulated HPA axis activity previously described in young men compared with young women cannot be ascribed to an activational upregulation of the axis by testosterone.
testosterone; cortisol; HPA axis; ACTH; CRH; men
In attempts to understand the social determinants of health, strong associations have been found between measures of loneliness, physiological stress processes, and physical and mental health outcomes. Feelings of loneliness are hypothesized to have implications for physiological stress processes, including activity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. In a community sample of young adults, multilevel modeling was used to examine whether trait and state feelings of loneliness were related to changes in levels of the stress-sensitive hormone cortisol, and whether the associations between loneliness and cortisol were mediated or moderated by the presence of concurrent depression or high levels of chronic life stress. Results indicated that trait loneliness was associated with a flattening of the diurnal cortisol rhythm. In addition, both daily and momentary state variations in loneliness were related to cortisol. Prior-day feelings of loneliness were associated with an increased cortisol awakening response the next morning and momentary experiences of loneliness during the day were associated with momentary increases in cortisol among youth who also had high chronic interpersonal stress. Results were significant after covarying current depression, both chronic and momentary reports of stress, and medical and lifestyle covariates. This study expanded on prior work by investigating and revealing three different time-courses of association between loneliness and HPA axis activity in young adults: trait, daily and momentary.
loneliness; cortisol diurnal rhythms; HPA axis; young adults; momentary emotion; CAR
Prior research suggests that individuals with particular personality traits, like negative emotionality, are at greater risk for adverse health outcomes. Despite bivariate associations between negative emotionality, depressive symptoms and the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis (HPA axis), few studies have sought to understand the biological pathways through which negative emotionality, depressive symptomology and cortisol--one of the primary hormonal products of the HPA axis--are associated. The present study explored whether negative emotionality influenced cortisol dysregulation through current depressive symptomatology and whether negative emotionality served as a moderator of the relationship between depressive symptoms and cortisol. In the community-based Vietnam Era Twin Study of Aging, 783 male twins completed two days of cortisol saliva sampling in their natural environments. Three measures of cortisol were analyzed: waking levels, the cortisol awakening response, and the peak to bed slope. Depressive symptoms significantly mediated the associations between negative emotionality and the peak to bed slope. A 2-way interaction between depressive symptoms and negative emotionality was significant for the peak to bed slope and for waking levels of cortisol. Exploration of the interactions illustrated that depressive symptoms only affected cortisol slopes at average or high levels of negative emotionality and only affected waking levels at low levels of negative emotionality. Negative emotionality and depressive symptoms were not related to the cortisol awakening response. This is the first study to find indirect associations between negative emotionality and peak to bed cortisol slopes through depressive symptoms. These findings illustrate the complex interplay between personality characteristics, depressive symptoms and different indices of the cortisol diurnal rhythm.
cortisol; negative emotionality; depressive symptomatology
The hypothesis of fetal origins of adult disease has during the last decades received interest as an explanation of chronic, e.g. cardiovascular, disease in adulthood stemming from fetal environmental conditions. Early programming and enduring dysregulations of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA axis), with cortisol as its end product, has been proposed as a possible mechanism by which birth weight influence later health status. However, the fetal origin of the adult cortisol regulation has been insufficiently studied. The present study aims to examine if body size at birth is related to circadian cortisol levels at 43 years.
Participants were drawn from a prospective cohort study (n = 752, 74.5%). Salivary cortisol samples were collected at four times during one day at 43 years, and information on birth size was collected retrospectively from delivery records. Information on body mass during adolescence and adulthood and on health behavior, medication and medical conditions at 43 years was collected prospectively by questionnaire and examined as potential confounders. Participants born preterm or < 2500 g were excluded from the main analyses.
Across the normal spectrum, size at birth (birth weight and ponderal index) was positively related to total (area under the curve, AUC) and bedtime cortisol levels in the total sample. Results were more consistent in men than in women. Descriptively, participants born preterm or < 2500 g also seemed to display elevated evening and total cortisol levels. No associations were found for birth length or for the cortisol awakening response (CAR).
These results are contradictory to previously reported negative associations between birth weight and adult cortisol levels, and thus tentatively question the assumption that only low birth weight predicts future physiological dysregulations.
Millions of adults in the United States travel abruptly across time zones each year. Nevertheless, the impact of traveling over relatively short distances (across 3 or fewer time zones) on diurnal patterning of typical physiological response patterns has yet to be studied in a large, epidemiological sample.
The current research focuses on 764 middle-aged men comparing variations in diurnal cortisol regulation based on number of time zones traveled eastward or westward the day before.
Main Outcome Measure
Participants provided samples of salivary cortisol at waking, 30-min postwaking, 10 a.m., 3 p.m., and bedtime.
Eastward travel was associated with a steeper salivary cortisol awakening response ( p < .01) and lower peak (PEAK) levels of salivary cortisol the next morning ( p < .05). Westward travel was associated with lower peak levels of cortisol the next morning ( p < .05). Effect sizes for these differences ranged from Cohen’s d = .29 to .47. Differences were not present for 2 days in their home environment.
The results provide evidence that traveling across time zones is associated with diurnal cortisol regulation and should be studied further to understand the subsequent impacts on health and well-being in large national samples.
jet lag; cortisol diumal rhythms; travel
To determine if cynical hostility is associated with alterations in diurnal profiles of cortisol. Hostility has been linked to cardiovascular disease but the biological mechanisms mediating this association remain unknown.
Up to 18 measures of salivary cortisol taken over three days were obtained from each of 936 participants in the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA). Cynical hostility was measured using an 8-item subscale of the Cook-Medley Hostility scale. Cortisol profiles were modeled using regression spline models incorporating random parameters for subject-specific effects. Models were adjusted for race, sex, age, socioeconomic position, and lifestyle factors. The association of cynical hostility with key features of the cortisol diurnal profile, both in the full sample and important subsamples, was examined.
Waking cortisol levels as well as the extent of the morning surge in cortisol levels did not differ significantly across tertiles of cynical hostility. However respondents in the lowest tertile of cynical hostility experienced a 22% sharper decline in salivary cortisol (age-and sex-adjusted slope of −.49 μg/dl per hour) than respondents in the highest tertile (−.40 μg/dl per hour, p for difference=.0004). Intertertile differences in these parameters remained unaltered after further adjustment for potential confounders. This pattern of differences in cortisol diurnal profile tended to be related in a dose-response way to level of cynical hostility, and persisted in stratified analyses.
Cynical hostility is associated with the declining phase of the awakening cortisol response. The implications of this for cardiovascular and other health outcomes remain to be determined.
Cortisol rhythms; cynical hostility; regression splines; random effects; cortisol awakening response
Autism is characterized by impairment in communication and social interaction, by repetitive behaviours and by difficulty in adapting to novel experiences. The objective of the current investigation was to replicate and extend our previous findings showing variable circadian rhythm and significant elevations in cortisol following exposure to a novel stimulus (mock magnetic resonance imaging [MRI]).
Circadian rhythms of cortisol were estimated in 22 children with and 22 children without autism via analysis of salivary samples collected in the morning, afternoon and evening over 6 separate days. We assessed hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) responsiveness by examining changes in salivary cortisol in response to a mock MRI. One-half of the children were re-exposed to the MRI environment.
Children with autism showed a decrease in cortisol in the morning over 6 days while maintaining higher evening values. Children with autism also showed more within-and between-subject variability in circadian rhythms. Although the cortisol values tended to be higher in some of the children with autism, a statistically significant elevation in cortisol in response to the initial mock MRI was not observed. Rather, both groups showed heightened cortisol at the arrival to the second visit to the imaging centre, suggesting an anticipatory response to the re-exposure to the mock MRI.
Children with autism showed dysregulation of the circadian rhythm evidenced by variability between groups, between children and within individual child comparisons. Both groups demonstrated increased salivary cortisol in anticipation of re-exposure to the perceived stressor.
autistic disorder; cortisol; circadian rhythm; stress
Binge eating episodes characterized by loss of control are hypothesized to be accompanied by changes in hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis functioning. Cortisol is an end product of this neuroendocrine stress system.
The aim of this study was to examine the cortisol levels and the awakening cortisol response (ACR) in obese persons showing binge eating after surgery for morbid obesity.
Sixteen obese women with binge eating disorder (BED) and 18 obese women without BED participated in the study. Means±SD: age 43 ± 15, body mass index 40 ± 8. Salivary cortisol, anthropometric assessments, and the eating disorder examination interview were taken.
Women with BED showed a significantly lower waist-to-hip ratio and cortisol levels during the day than women without BED, whereas the ACR did not differ.
Our cross-sectional study in a small sample generates the hypothesis that neuroendocrine regulation differs between obese women with and without BED after obesity surgery. This finding needs replication in future studies that should also examine the causal direction of the observed association.
Salivary cortisol; Eating disorders; Obesity; Circadian rhythm; Cortisol awakening response; Binge eating
Although stress is often hypothesized to contribute to the effects of neighborhoods on health, very few studies have investigated associations of neighborhood characteristics with stress biomarkers. This study helps address the gap in the literature by examining whether neighborhood characteristics are associated with cortisol profiles. Analyses were based on data from the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis Stress study which collected multiple measures of salivary cortisol over three days on a population based sample of approximately 800 adults. Multilevel models with splines were used to examine associations of cortisol levels with neighborhood poverty, violence, disorder, and social cohesion. Neighborhood violence was significantly associated with lower cortisol values at wakeup and with a slower decline in cortisol over the earlier part of the day, after sociodemographic controls. Associations were weaker and less consistent for neighborhood poverty, social cohesion, and disorder. Results revealed suggestive, though limited, evidence linking neighborhood contexts to cortisol circadian rhythms.
Neighborhood context; cortisol; biomarker; hierarchical linear modeling
The purpose of the present investigation was to examine the association between circadian rhythms of cortisol and physical and relational aggression. Morning arrival, pre-lunch, and afternoon pre-departure salivary cortisol were assessed among 418 maltreated and nonmaltreated children (52% maltreated; 49% female) attending a summer day camp. Counselors and peers rated participants' involvement in physically and relationally aggressive behaviors. Results indicated that physical aggression was associated with heightened cortisol following morning arrival and relatively steep declines in cortisol over the day whereas relational aggression was associated with low cortisol following morning arrival and blunted diurnal change in cortisol. Moreover, maltreatment was a significant moderator of this relationship such that aggression was related to greater cortisol dysregulation among nonmaltreated than maltreated children. The findings suggest that physiological correlates of aggression may differ for physical and relational forms of aggression and among maltreated versus nonmaltreated populations.
aggression; gender; cortisol; maltreatment
The objective of this study was to examine the role of spousal bereavement and positive emotion in naturally occurring levels of daily cortisol.
Analyses were conducted using data from the Midlife in the United Sates (MIDUS) survey and the National Study of Daily Experiences (NSDE). Baseline assessments of extraversion, neuroticism, trait positive emotion, and trait negative emotion were obtained, as were reports of demographic and health behavior covariates. Salivary cortisol levels were measured at wakeup, 30 min after awakening, before lunch, and at bedtime on each of four successive days.
Multilevel growth curve analyses indicated that independent of age, gender, education, extraversion, neuroticism, negative emotion, medication use and smoking, spousal bereavement was associated with lower levels of cortisol at wakeup and a flattening of the diurnal cortisol rhythm. Mediation analyses revealed that prospective changes in positive emotion accounted for the impact of bereavement on diurnal cortisol slopes.
The current prospective study is among the first to provide evidence for a role for positive emotion as a mechanism by which bereavement influences HPA-axis dysregulation in older adults.
bereavement; positive emotion; diurnal cortisol; spousal loss
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
Depression is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease (CVD) perhaps mediated by hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis or vagal dysregulation. We investigated circadian mood variation and HPA-axis and autonomic function in older (≥55 years) depressed and nondepressed volunteers at risk for CVD by assessing diurnal positive and negative affect (PA, NA), cortisol, and cardiopulmonary variables in 46 moderately depressed and 19 nondepressed volunteers with elevated CVD risk. Participants sat quietly for 5-min periods (10:00, 12:00, 14:00, 17:00, 19:00, 21:00), and then completed an electronic diary assessing PA and NA. Traditional and respiration-controlled heart rate variability (HRV) variables were computed for these periods as an index of vagal activity. Salivary cortisols were collected at waking, waking+30 min, 12:00, 17:00, and 21:00 hours. Cortisol peaked in the early morning after waking, and gradually declined over the day, but did not differ between groups. PA was lower and NA was higher in the depressed group throughout the day. HRV did not differ between groups. Negative emotions were inversely related to respiratory sinus arrhythmia in nondepressed participants. We conclude that moderately depressed patients do not show abnormal HPA-axis function. Diurnal PA and NA distinguish depressed from nondepressed patients at risk for CVD, while measures of vagal regulation, even when controlled for physical activity and respiratory confounds, do not. Diurnal mood variations of older individuals at risk for CVD differ from those reported for other groups and daily fluctuations in NA are not related to cardiac autonomic control in depressed individuals.
Cardiovascular Disease; Cortisol; Depression; Heart Rate Variability
Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is typically accompanied by both acute and chronic alterations in the stress response. These alterations have mostly been described in individuals under baseline conditions, but studies have also used a challenge model to assess the role of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis in the stress response. The purpose of this article was to assess the effect of long-term treatment with the selective reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), paroxetine, on stress reactivity in patients with PTSD. We assessed diurnal salivary cortisol and urinary cortisol as well as cortisol, heart rate, and behavioral responses to a standardized cognitive stress challenge, in 13 female patients with chronic PTSD before and after 12 months of paroxetine treatment. Treatment resulted in a significant decrease in PTSD symptoms. Twenty-four-hour urinary cortisol was lower compared to base line after successful treatment. Treatment resulted in a decrease of salivary cortisol levels on all time points on a diurnal curve. Despite similar stress perception, cortisol response to the cognitive stress challenge resulted in a 26.5% relative decrease in stress-induced salivary cortisol with treatment. These results suggest that successful treatment with SSRI in chronic PTSD is associated with a trend for a decrease in baseline diurnal cortisol and with reduced cortisol reactivity to stress.
cortisol; PTSD; stress; paroxetine; SSRI; challenge; HPA axis
Research examining cortisol dysregulation is seemingly contradictory with studies showing that both internalizing and externalizing behaviors are related to high and low cortisol. One extant theory to explain divergent findings in the stress literature is that both hypo- and hyper-arousal of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis may be present depending on time since onset of the stressor. This theory may extend to the onset of internalizing and externalizing behaviors. Data from 96 youth participating in a longitudinal project were used to examine this possibility. Composite measures of internalizing and externalizing behaviors at both childhood and early adolescence were formed using mother and teacher reports. Multiple salivary cortisol samples were also collected over two consecutive days during early adolescence. Problematic behaviors were associated with cortisol and the direction of the association was dependent on amount of time passed since onset of the behaviors. When examined concurrently in adolescence, youth with more internalizing behaviors had higher morning cortisol; however, when examined longitudinally, youth with more internalizing behaviors in childhood had lower morning cortisol levels as adolescents. Youth with more externalizing behaviors in childhood had flattened diurnal cortisol rhythms as adolescents, and this finding persisted when examined in adolescence. Cortisol dysregulation was greatest in children with the most severe behavior problems. Findings support the theoretical model of blunting of the HPA axis over time. While the HPA axis may show hyper-arousal when youth first display behaviors, long-term exposure may lead to a hypo-arousal of the HPA axis which culminates in a dysregulated diurnal rhythm.
diurnal cortisol; internalizing behavior; externalizing behavior; blunted; hierarchical linear modeling