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Br J Psychiatry. 2010 Sep;197(3):180-5. doi: 10.1192/bjp.bp.109.076869.

Parental history of depression or anxiety and the cortisol awakening response.

Author information

1
Department of Psychiatry and the EMGO Institute for Health and Care Research, VU University Medical Center Amsterdam, The Netherlands. s.vreeburg@ggzingeest.nl

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

It is unclear whether altered hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis regulation, which frequently accompanies depression and anxiety disorders, represents a trait rather than a state factor.

AIMS:

To examine whether HPA axis dysregulation represents a biological vulnerability for these disorders, we compared cortisol levels in unaffected people with and without a parental history of depressive or anxiety disorders. We additionally examined whether possible HPA axis dysregulations resemble those observed in participants with depression or anxiety disorders.

METHOD:

Data were from the Netherlands Study of Depression and Anxiety. Within the participants without a lifetime diagnoses of depression or anxiety disorders, three groups were distinguished: 180 people without parental history, 114 with self-reported parental history and 74 with CIDI-diagnosed parental history. These groups were additionally compared with people with major depressive disorder or panic disorder with agoraphobia (n = 1262). Salivary cortisol samples were obtained upon awakening, and 30, 45 and 60 min later.

RESULTS:

As compared with unaffected participants without parental history, unaffected individuals with diagnosed parental history of depression or anxiety showed a significantly higher cortisol awakening curve (effect size (d) = 0.50), which was similar to that observed in the participants with depression or anxiety disorders. Unaffected people with self-reported parental history did not differ in awakening cortisol levels from unaffected people without parental history.

CONCLUSIONS:

Unaffected individuals with parental history of depression or anxiety showed a higher cortisol awakening curve, similar to that of the participants with depression or anxiety disorders. This suggests that a higher cortisol awakening curve reflects a trait marker, indicating an underlying biological vulnerability for the development of depressive and anxiety disorders.

PMID:
20807961
DOI:
10.1192/bjp.bp.109.076869
[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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