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Int J Behav Dev. 2012 Jan;36(1):53-61.

Cortisol response to behavior problems in FMR1 premutation mothers of adolescents and adults with fragile X syndrome: A diathesis-stress model.

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University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA.


Mothers of adolescents and adults with fragile X syndrome (FXS) are faced with high levels of parenting stress. The extent to which mothers are negatively impacted by this stress, however, may be influenced by their own genetic status. The present study uses a diathesis-stress model to examine the ways in which a genetic vulnerability in mothers with the premutation of the FMR1 gene interacts with child-related environmental stress to predict their morning cortisol levels. Seventy-six mothers of an adolescent or adult with FXS participated in an 8-day telephone diary study in which they reported on the behavior problems of their son or daughter with FXS each day. We analyzed salivary cortisol collected from mothers at awakening and 30 minutes after awakening on 4 of these days. The results indicated that mothers with greater genetic vulnerability had a lower level of cortisol on mornings following days when their son or daughter with FXS manifested more episodes of behavior problems, whereas mothers with less genetic risk evinced the opposite pattern of higher morning cortisol in response to their child's behavior problems. This finding contributes to our understanding of gene-by-environment interactions and highlights the importance of interventions to alleviate parenting stress in mothers raising children with FXS.

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