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Horm Behav. 2006 Nov;50(4):632-9. Epub 2006 Jul 28.

Child maltreatment and the developing HPA axis.

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Institute of Child Development, 51 East River Road, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA.


The developing HPA axis is under strong social regulation in infancy and early childhood and is vulnerable to perturbation in the absence of sensitive, responsive caregiving. Child maltreatment has complex, long-term influences both on basal cortisol levels and on HPA responsivity to pharmacological and psychological stressors, depending on current psychiatric status, current life adversity, age, and most likely, genetic factors. Among the more consistent findings, maltreated children with internalizing problems have elevated basal cortisol most often detected in early AM concentrations, whereas adults maltreated as children often exhibit low basal cortisol levels and elevated ACTH response to psychological stressors. To disentangle these complicated interactions, future research must take the above qualifiers into account, study the transition to puberty, explore the moderating role of candidate genes, and utilize animal models and pharmacological challenges, when ethical, to localize changes in the HPA axis. Post-institutionalized children may provide a model to separate early adverse care histories from current adversity.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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