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J Psychiatr Res. 2011 Sep;45(9):1146-52. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychires.2011.03.004. Epub 2011 Apr 5.

Early parental loss and depression history: associations with recent life stress in major depressive disorder.

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Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology, University of California, Los Angeles, CA, USA.


Although exposure to early adversity and prior experiences with depression have both been associated with lower levels of precipitating life stress in depression, it is unclear whether these stress sensitization effects are similar for all types of stress or whether they are specific to stressors that may be particularly depressogenic, such as those involving interpersonal loss. To investigate this issue, we administered structured, interview-based measures of early adversity, depression history, and recent life stress to one hundred adults who were diagnosed with major depressive disorder. As predicted, individuals who experienced early parental loss or prolonged separation (i.e., lasting one year or longer) and persons with more lifetime episodes of depression became depressed following lower levels of life stress occurring in the etiologically-central time period of three months prior to onset of depression. Importantly, however, additional analyses revealed that these effects were unique to stressors involving interpersonal loss. These data highlight potential stressor-specific effects in stress sensitization and demonstrate for the first time that individuals exposed to early parental loss or separation, and persons with greater histories of MDD, may be selectively sensitized to stressors involving interpersonal loss.

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