Harkness KL, Stewart JG, Wynne-Edwards KE. Cortisol reactivity to social stress in adolescents: role of depression severity and child maltreatment. Psychoneuroendocrinology 36: 173-181

Department of Psychology, Queen's University, Kingston, ON, Canada.
Psychoneuroendocrinology (Impact Factor: 4.94). 02/2011; 36(2):173-81. DOI: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2010.07.006
Source: PubMed


This study examined the hypothesis that depressed adolescents with a history of childhood maltreatment will show greater cortisol reactivity to psychological stress challenge than those without, and this relation will be moderated by level of depression severity. Seventy-one adolescents were exposed to the Trier Social Stress Test. Salivary cortisol was assessed at baseline, immediately before the challenge, after the challenge, and during an extended recovery period. Childhood maltreatment was assessed with a rigorous contextual interview and rating system. Adolescents with a history of maltreatment produced higher and more prolonged levels of cortisol in response to the challenge than did adolescents with no maltreatment, but only among those with a mild/moderate level of depression severity. Those with moderate/severe depression exhibited a blunted cortisol response regardless of child maltreatment history. These findings indicate that depression is a heterogeneous syndrome, and that both depression severity and child maltreatment history should be considered in studies examining biological stress reactivity.

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    • "This divergence in findings may arise in part due to methodological differences in the measurement of stress. In particular, studies using more rigorous, interview-based measures of stress often report that interviewer-rated stress is associated with decreased or ''blunted'' levels of salivary cortisol (e.g., Bosch et al., 2012; Harkness, Stewart, Wynne-Edwards, 2011). To our knowledge, no study to date has examined associations between HCC and psychosocial stress using an interview-based measure of stress, which is considered the gold standard in the field (McQuaid, Monroe, Roberts, Kupfer, & Frank, 2000; Monroe, 2008). "
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    ABSTRACT: Hair cortisol concentrations (HCC) are receiving increased attention as a novel biomarker of psychophysiological responses to chronic stress, with potential relevance for psychopathology risk research. We examined the validity of HCC as a marker of psychosocial stress in mother (Mage = 37.87 years)-daughter (Mage = 7.62 years) dyads characterized by higher (n = 30) or lower (n = 30) maternal chronic stress. Additionally, we examined whether early care moderated similarity of HCC levels within dyads. Higher-stress mothers had significantly lower HCC compared to lower-stress mothers, consistent with other research showing that chronic stress leads to blunted HPA axis activity over time. Further, HCC in daughters were significantly and positively associated with previously assessed salivary cortisol stress reactivity. Finally, mother-daughter HCC associations were significantly moderated by negative parenting styles, such that associations became stronger as quality of parenting decreased. Findings overall indicate that HCC may be a useful marker of cortisol responses to chronic stress. © 2015 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Dev Psychobiol. © 2015 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
    Full-text · Article · Apr 2015 · Developmental Psychobiology
    • "Finally, the presence of psychopathology has likely been a source of considerable variability. For example, several studies have shown that psychopathology moderates the association between trauma exposure and HPA-axis dysregulation (Harkness et al., 2011; Hart et al., 1996), while many studies to date have excluded youth from studies for the presence of psychopathology (e.g., Ivanov et al., 2011) or did not account for symptoms in their models of HPA-axis functioning (e.g., Saltzman et al., 2005). Therefore, the present study addresses these past limitations by assessing child trauma exposure in multiple domains, used trauma exposure as a continuous predictor, and recruited a community sample with a wide range in age, while accounting for the presence of psychopathology. "
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    ABSTRACT: Studies examining the association between childhood trauma exposure and neuroendocrine functioning have returned inconsistent findings. To date, few studies have accounted for the role exposure to different types of childhood trauma may have on different neuroendocrine adaptations, and no study has examined this association using multiple indices of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA-axis) functioning. The purpose of this study was to characterize the unique associations between exposure to physical abuse, emotional abuse, and non-intentional trauma, and multiple indices of HPA-axis functioning. A community sample of 138 youth (aged 9-16) completed the Socially Evaluated Cold Pressor Task (SE-CPT) while their parents completed the Early Trauma Inventory (ETI). All youth then collected 4 diurnal salivary cortisol samples at home across 2 consecutive weekdays. High reported exposure to non-intentional trauma was associated with intact diurnal regulation but elevated cortisol at bedtime, physical abuse was associated with faster reactivity to acute stress, and emotional abuse was associated with delayed recovery of cortisol following acute stress. Taken together, there was a heterogeneous relationship among different indices of HPA-axis functioning and trauma subtype. Different types of childhood trauma exposure are related to distinct anomalies in HPA-axis functioning. This study underscores the importance of research incorporating multiple indices of HPA-axis functioning to inform our understanding of the underlying neuroendocrine dysregulation that may later lead to stress-related psychopathology. Copyright © 2015 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
    No preview · Article · Feb 2015 · Psychoneuroendocrinology
    • "Previous studies of the TSST on samples with a history of childhood trauma have shown lower cortisol reactivity in healthy adults (Carpenter et al., 2007), both men (Elzinga et al., 2008) and women (Carpenter et al., 2010), but have shown increased responses in depressed women (Heim et al., 2000a,b). With a history of childhood trauma, depressed adolescents have also shown increased responses (Rao et al., 2008), but only when the symptoms are mild (Harkness et al., 2010). In contrast, healthy female adolescents (MacMillan et al., 2009) and healthy children (Ouellet-Morin et al., 2011) show lower responses. "
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    ABSTRACT: Background and aims: Childhood trauma may have longstanding effects on individuals' propensity to react adversely to stress, and also predisposes individuals to suffer from depression. The current study aimed to examine stress reactivity in individuals with and without a history of childhood trauma by measuring cortisol responses to the passive viewing of stressful images, specifically including images relevant to childhood trauma. In addition, participants with and without a diagnosis of current depression were studied to investigate whether cortisol stress reactivity may underlie resilience or vulnerability to depression. Methods: The study involved 17 healthy participants with and 24 without a history of childhood trauma; and 21 depressed patients with and 18 without a history of childhood trauma. Salivary cortisol was measured before, during and after participants were shown affectively laden images, including standardised scenes from the International Affective Picture System and also images suggestive of childhood abuse. Cortisol stress reactivity to the passive image viewing was compared between groups. Results: In those who had experienced childhood trauma, cortisol stress responses were overall low and the same in those who were depressed and those who were not (mean stress reactivity variable - depressed: 0.8 nmol/l; non-depressed: 0.72 nmol/l). In contrast, cortisol stress reactivity was raised in depressed subjects relative to those who were not depressed in those without a history of childhood trauma (mean stress reactivity variable - depressed: 3.75 nmol/l; non-depressed: 0.1 nmol/l). Conclusions: A history of childhood trauma has longstanding effects on adulthood cortisol responses to stress, particularly in that depressed individuals with a history of childhood trauma show blunted cortisol responses. However, there were no differences between abused depressed and abused non-depressed subjects on cortisol stress responses, suggesting that such a finding does not explain subsequent susceptibility to depression. On the other hand, patients who experience depression without a history of childhood trauma show enhanced cortisol stress reactivity, which could help explain the aetiology of their depressive illnesses. Differences between the current findings and those using other pharmacological and stress challenge paradigms may relate to the type of stimuli used and to dysfunction at different levels of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis.
    No preview · Article · Sep 2014 · Psychoneuroendocrinology
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