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Salivary Bioscience News

Latent Trait Cortisol level reflects accumulation of both distal and recent forms of stress

Individual differences in early adolescents’ latent trait cortisol (LTC): Relation to recent acute and chronic stress.

Author: Stroud CB, et al (2016), Psychoneuroendocrinology

Research suggests that environmental stress contributes to health by altering the regulation of the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis. Recent evidence indicates that early life stress alters trait indicators of HPA axis activity, but whether recent stress alters such indicators is unknown. Using objective contextual stress interviews with adolescent girls and their mothers, we examined the impact of recent acute and chronic stress occurring during the past year on early adolescent girls’ latent trait cortisol (LTC) level. We also examined whether associations between recent stress and LTC level: a) varied according to the interpersonal nature and controllability of the stress; and b) remained after accounting for the effect of early life stress. Adolescents (n=117;M age=12.39years) provided salivary cortisol samples three times a day (waking, 30min post-waking and bedtime) over 3 days. Results indicated that greater recent interpersonal acute stress and greater recent independent (i.e., uncontrollable) acute stress were each associated with a higher LTC level, over and above the effect of early adversity. In contrast, greater recent chronic stress was associated with a lower LTC level. Findings were similar in the overall sample and a subsample of participants who strictly adhered to the timed schedule of saliva sample collection. Implications for understanding the impact of recent stress on trait-like individual differences in HPA axis activity are discussed.

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Keywords: Acute stress, chronic stress, early adversity, hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis, salivary cortisol, trait

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