Longitudinal stability and developmental properties of salivary cortisol levels and circadian rhythms from childhood to adolescence

Department of Psychology, University of New Orleans, 2000 Lakeshore Drive, New Orleans, LA 70148, USA.
Developmental Psychobiology (Impact Factor: 3.31). 07/2012; 54(5):493-502. DOI: 10.1002/dev.20607
Source: PubMed


This study aimed to (1) identify a stable, trait-like component to cortisol and its circadian rhythm, and (2) investigate individual differences in developmental trajectories of HPA-axis maturation. Multiple salivary cortisol samples were collected longitudinally across four assessments from age 9 (3rd grade) through age 15 (9th grade) in a community sample of children (N = 357). Sophisticated statistical models examined cortisol levels and its rhythm over time; effects of age, puberty and gender were primarily considered. In addition to situation-specific and stable short-term or epoch-specific cortisol components, there is a stable, trait-like component of cortisol levels and circadian rhythm across multiple years covering the transition from childhood into adolescence. Youth had higher cortisol and flatter circadian rhythms as they got older and more physically developed. Girls had higher cortisol, stronger circadian rhythms, and greater developmental influences across adolescence. Distinguishing a stable, trait-like component of cortisol level and its circadian rhythm provides the empirical foundation for investigating putative mechanisms underlying individual differences in HPA functioning. The findings also provide important descriptive information about maturational processes influencing HPA-axis development.

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    • "Self-regulatory capacities increase in early childhood (e.g., Kochanska et al., 2000; Watamura et al., 2004) and have been associated with lower overall cortisol concentrations in 12- to 36-month-olds (Watamura et al., 2004). However, although the development of self-regulation and the sleep-wake cycle continue until at least middle childhood (e.g., Raffaelli et al., 2005; Crabtree and Williams, 2009) and the cortisol circadian rhythm still develops between 9 and 15 years of age (see Shirtcliff et al., 2012), there is a gap in what is known about the longitudinal development of the cortisol circadian rhythm during childhood. Hence, the first aim of this study was to longitudinally investigate how the cortisol circadian rhythm develops from ages 1 to 6. "
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    ABSTRACT: The secretion of the stress hormone cortisol follows a diurnal circadian rhythm. There are indications that this rhythm is affected by stress early in life. This paper addresses the development of the cortisol circadian rhythm between 1 and 6 years of age, and the role of maternal stress and anxiety early in the child's life on this (developing) rhythm. Participants were 193 healthy mother-child dyads from a community sample. Self-reported maternal stress and anxiety and physiological stress (saliva cortisol), were assessed prenatally (gestational week 37). Postnatally, self-reported maternal stress and anxiety were measured at 3, 6, 12, 30, and 72 months. Saliva cortisol samples from the children were collected on two days (four times each day) at 12, 30, and 72 months of age. The total amount of cortisol during the day and the cortisol decline over the day were determined to indicate children's cortisol circadian rhythm. Multilevel analyses showed that the total amount of cortisol decreased between 1 and 6 years. Furthermore, more maternal pregnancy-specific stress was related to higher total amounts of cortisol in the child. Higher levels of early postnatal maternal anxiety were associated with flatter cortisol declines in children. Higher levels of early postnatal maternal daily hassles were associated with steeper child cortisol declines over the day. These results indicated developmental change in children's cortisol secretion from 1 to 6 years and associations between maternal stress and anxiety early in children's lives and children's cortisol circadian rhythm in early childhood.
    Psychoneuroendocrinology 08/2015; 62. DOI:10.1016/j.psyneuen.2015.08.024 · 4.94 Impact Factor
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    • "It has been suggested that, due to the inconsistency of the DR/CAR across the wider population, studies of the nature and form of HPAaxis responses might benefit from repeated measurements of cortisol over several days in order to collect data which are representative of usual HPA axis activity [32], although the rationale for those suggestions has been challenged by other data which report stability in cortisol concentrations assayed from saliva in non-ASD children [34] and adults [19]. Further, although some studies on children with an ASD have taken repeated measures of salivary cortisol over several days [10] [21], most datasets reported do not indicate large-scale differences in cortisol concentrations over the days sampled and the metrics of agreement between those repeated measurements of cortisol concentrations are not reported in most studies. "
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    ABSTRACT: The agreement over time in morning salivary cortisol concentrations and also self- and parent-rated anxiety was investigated in a sample of 16 boys with an ASD. Cortisol and anxiety data were collected eight months apart. Results indicated that there were significant correlations between each pair of measures from the two occasions, suggesting that cortisol concentrations and anxiety did not vary much at all over that time, challenging the assumption that cortisol needs to be measured over multiple days to obtain reliable data from children with an ASD. Implications for research into the ways these children respond to chronic stressors are discussed. Copyright © 2015. Published by Elsevier Inc.
    Physiology & Behavior 07/2015; 151. DOI:10.1016/j.physbeh.2015.07.027 · 2.98 Impact Factor
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    • "In studies with multiple measurement occasions (e.g., an intervention study with baseline, post-intervention, and follow-up or a longitudinal study with annual measurement occasions), cortisol might be measured on multiple days within each occasion. Variance estimates for singleday measurements are of limited utility for design decisions involving multiple measurements at multiple time points (Kirschbaum et al., 1990; Hruschka et al., 2005; Rotenberg et al., 2012; Shirtcliff et al., 2012). Instead, decisions may focus on the number of days and occasions required for measures to discriminate people from each other at the same occasion, different occasions, or across an aggregate of occasions with adequate reliability. "
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    ABSTRACT: The extant research is inconclusive regarding the best sampling methods to construct reliable measures of between-person differences in derived parameters of diurnal cortisol, and no study provides such recommendations for detecting within-person changes. These studies determined how many days of sampling are necessary to assess between-person differences and within-person changes over multiple occasions in diurnal mean, diurnal slope, and area under the curve (AUC). Generalizability and decision analyses were conducted on diurnal salivary cortisol data from two separate longitudinal studies, one with younger adults (N = 124) and one with older adults (N = 148). In both studies, results indicated that 3 days of data collection provided the minimal level of reliability in mean cortisol to detect between-person differences; 4–8 days were necessary to reliably assess AUC, and 10 days for cortisol slope. Similarly, in order to reliably characterize within-person changes across occasions, at least 3 days of data collection were needed for mean cortisol and AUC and 5–8 days for slope. Results also indicated that only two samples per day, taken morning and evening, could faithfully reproduce the diurnal slope calculated from 3 or 4 samples (r = .97–.99). Instead of having participants provide many samples per day over the course of a few days, we recommend collecting fewer samples per day over more days.
    Psychoneuroendocrinology 11/2014; 49(1):299–309. DOI:10.1016/j.psyneuen.2014.07.022 · 4.94 Impact Factor
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