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Psychiatry Res. 2011 May 15;187(1-2):204-9. doi: 10.1016/j.psychres.2010.05.004. Epub 2010 Sep 1.

Cortisol reactivity in boys with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and disruptive behavior problems: the impact of callous unemotional traits.

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Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, J. W. Goethe-University Frankfurt am Main, Germany.


There is a body of literature demonstrating an association between altered hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis reactivity and aggressive behavior. Aggressive and disruptive behavior also is highly prevalent in children with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Findings on HPA-axis reactivity in ADHD, however, are rather inconsistent. Specific temperamental risk factors previously were associated with a specific subtype of severe disruptive behavior. These traits might also be characterized by a distinct neurobiological profile across ADHD and disruptive behavior disorders. In this study we focus on psychopathic traits, notably callous unemotional (CU) traits. The main objective of the present study was to investigate whether two groups of ADHD patients with high or low CU traits differed in cortisol reactivity. Subjects were 36 boys with ADHD and disruptive behavior symptoms aged 8 to 14 years. Salivary cortisol probes were taken before and repeatedly after an experimental standardized stress test. Patients scoring high on CU traits showed a blunted HPA axis reactivity to the experimentally induced stress. Results underscore the need to consider specific personality traits in investigating neurobiological correlates in ADHD with disruptive behavior problems.

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