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Exposure to postnatal depression predicts elevated cortisol in adolescent offspring

By S. L. Halligan, J. Herbert, I. M. Goodyer and L. Murray


Background. Animal research shows that early adverse experience results in altered glucocorticoid levels in adulthood, either raised basal levels or accentuated responses to stress. If a similar phenomenon operates in humans, this suggests a biological mechanism whereby early adversity might transmit risk for major depression, glucocorticoid elevations being associated with the development of this disorder. Methods. We measured salivary cortisol at 8:00 Am and 8:00 Pm over 10 days in 13-year-old adolescents who had (n = 48) or bad not (n = 39) been exposed to postnatal maternal depression. Results: Maternal postnatal depression was associated with higher, more variable morning cortisol in offspring, a pattern previously found to predict major depression. Conclusions. Early adverse experiences might alter later steroid levels in humans. Because maternal depression confers added risk for depression to children, these alterations might provide a link between early events and later psychopathology

Year: 2004
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