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Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2009 Feb;34(2):163-71. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2008.10.026. Epub 2008 Dec 18.

Salivary cortisol as a biomarker in stress research.

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Psychology, Department of Clinical and Physiological Psychology, University of Trier, Johanniterufer 15, 54290 Trier, Germany.


Salivary cortisol is frequently used as a biomarker of psychological stress. However, psychobiological mechanisms, which trigger the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPAA) can only indirectly be assessed by salivary cortisol measures. The different instances that control HPAA reactivity (hippocampus, hypothalamus, pituitary, adrenals) and their respective modulators, receptors, or binding proteins, may all affect salivary cortisol measures. Thus, a linear relationship with measures of plasma ACTH and cortisol in blood or urine does not necessarily exist. This is particularly true under response conditions. The present paper addresses several psychological and biological variables, which may account for such dissociations, and aims to help researchers to rate the validity and psychobiological significance of salivary cortisol as an HPAA biomarker of stress in their experiments.

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