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Biol Psychiatry. 2005 Jan 1;57(1):27-32.

Association between childhood trauma and catecholamine response to psychological stress in police academy recruits.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, University of California-San Francisco, and Veterans Affairs Medical Center, San Francisco, CA, USA.



Childhood trauma is a risk factor for anxiety disorders in adulthood. One possible mechanism for this association is an increased neuroendocrine response to stress in adults with a history of childhood trauma.


In a cross-sectional study, 76 police academy recruits (mean [+/-SD] age 28 +/- 5 years, 10 female) were exposed to a video depicting real-life officers exposed to highly stressful incidents. Salivary cortisol and 3-methoxy-4-hydroxy-phenylglycol (MHPG, the major metabolite of norepinephrine) were collected at baseline, immediately after the video, and 20 min after the video. Childhood trauma before age 14 was assessed with an interview (Life Stressor Checklist-Revised).


Exposure to the video elicited significant MHPG and cortisol responses in both groups. Recruits with childhood trauma histories (n = 16) had a significantly greater MHPG response, as evidenced by a group effect (F = 8.0, p < .01), and a group x time interaction (F = 4.1, p < .05). The cortisol response did not differ between groups.


Police academy recruits with childhood trauma histories have an increased catecholamine response to psychological stress. This might serve as a risk factor for anxiety disorders in recruits, and these findings might generalize to other groups with a history of childhood trauma.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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