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Pediatrics. 2013 Nov;132(5):e1333-40. doi: 10.1542/peds.2013-1178. Epub 2013 Oct 7.

Maternal influence on child HPA axis: a prospective study of cortisol levels in hair.

Author information

1
Division of Community Medicine, Department of Medicine and Health Sciences, Linköping University, SE-581 83 Linköping, Sweden. jerker.karlen@liu.se.

Abstract

OBJECTIVE:

To investigate cortisol concentrations in hair as biomarker of prolonged stress in young children and their mothers and the relation to perinatal and sociodemographic factors.

METHODS:

Prospective cohort study of 100 All Babies In Southeast Sweden study participants with repeated measures at 1, 3, 5, and 8 years and their mothers during pregnancy. Prolonged stress levels were assessed through cortisol in hair. A questionnaire covered perinatal and sociodemographic factors during the child's first year of life.

RESULTS:

Maternal hair cortisol during the second and third trimester and child hair cortisol at year 1 and 3 correlated. Child cortisol in hair levels decreased over time and correlated to each succeeding age, between years 1 and 3 (r = 0.30, P = .002), 3 and 5 (r = 0.39, P < .001), and 5 and 8 (r = 0.44, P < .001). Repeated measures gave a significant linear association over time (P < .001). There was an association between high levels of hair cortisol and birth weight (β = .224, P = .020), nonappropriate size for gestational age (β = .231, P = .017), and living in an apartment compared with a house (β = .200, P = .049). In addition, we found high levels of cortisol in hair related to other factors associated with psychosocial stress exposure.

CONCLUSIONS:

Correlation between hair cortisol levels in mothers and their children suggests a heritable trait or maternal calibration of the child's hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical axis. Cortisol output gradually stabilizes and seems to have a stable trait. Cortisol concentration in hair has the potential to become a biomarker of prolonged stress, especially applicable as a noninvasive method when studying how stress influences children's health.

KEYWORDS:

children; cortisol; hair; health disparities; mother; stress

PMID:
24101769
DOI:
10.1542/peds.2013-1178
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
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