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Biol Psychiatry. 2008 Jun 15;63(12):1147-54. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2008.01.011. Epub 2008 Mar 12.

Childhood parental loss and adult hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal function.

Author information

1
Mood Disorders Research Program, Laboratory for Clinical Neuroscience, Butler Hospital, Providence, Rhode Island 02906, USA. Audrey_Tyrka@Brown.edu

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

Several decades of research link childhood parental loss with risk for major depression and other forms of psychopathology. A large body of preclinical work on maternal separation and some recent studies of humans with childhood parental loss have demonstrated alterations of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis function that could predispose to the development of psychiatric disorders.

METHODS:

Eighty-eight healthy adults with no current Axis I psychiatric disorder participated in this study. Forty-four participants experienced parental loss during childhood, including 19 with a history of parental death and 25 with a history of prolonged parental separation. The loss group was compared with a matched group of individuals who reported no history of childhood parental separation or childhood maltreatment. Participants completed diagnostic interviews and questionnaires and the dexamethasone/corticotropin-releasing hormone (Dex/CRH) test. Repeated measures general linear models were used to test the effects of parental loss, parental care, gender, and age on the hormone responses to the Dex/CRH test.

RESULTS:

Parental loss was associated with increased cortisol responses to the test, particularly in men. The effect of loss was moderated by levels of parental care; participants with parental desertion and very low levels of care had attenuated cortisol responses. Adrenocorticotropic hormone responses to the Dex/CRH test did not differ significantly as a function of parental loss.

CONCLUSIONS:

These findings are consistent with the hypothesis that early parental loss induces enduring changes in neuroendocrine function.

PMID:
18339361
PMCID:
PMC2650434
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article
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