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Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2012 Jul;37(7):970-9. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2011.11.004. Epub 2011 Dec 9.

Cumulative stress and maternal prenatal corticotropin-releasing hormone in an urban U.S. cohort.

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Department of Epidemiology, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA, USA.



To date, there have been conflicting reports of the association of psychosocial stressors with prenatal corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) levels.


We examined whether racial discrimination, community violence, interpersonal violence (IPV), negative life events, considered independently, and as a composite measure of cumulative stress, were associated with prenatal CRH levels in the Asthma Coalition on Community, Environment, and Social Stress (ACCESS) project, a multiethnic pre-birth cohort in urban Boston. Blood was collected between 20 and 37 weeks gestation (Mean=28.1, SD=4.6 weeks gestation). During pregnancy, women were administered the Conflict Tactics Scale survey to assess IPV, the Crisis in Family Systems-Revised survey to assess negative life events, the My Exposure to Violence survey to assess community violence, and the Experiences of Discrimination survey. A cumulative stress measure was derived from these instruments to characterize exposure to high levels of multiple stressors.


None of the individual stressors or cumulative stress was associated with CRH in combined analyses including Whites (n=20), Blacks (n=46), and Hispanics (n=110). In separate analyses of Blacks and Hispanics, racial discrimination, community violence, and cumulative stress were associated with CRH in Blacks, but were not associated with CRH in Hispanics.


Though these results require replication, they suggest that the effects of stress on prenatal CRH levels may be mediated by factors that differ between racial/ethnic groups. Further studies in larger samples are warranted to clarify whether associations of chronic stressors and prenatal CRH levels differ by race/ethnicity and to better understand underlying mechanisms.

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