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Alcohol. 2016 Jun;53:9-18. doi: 10.1016/j.alcohol.2016.03.003. Epub 2016 Apr 1.

Dysregulation of the cortisol diurnal rhythm following prenatal alcohol exposure and early life adversity.

Author information

1
Department of Pediatrics, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada; Department of Pediatrics, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Electronic address: kmclachl@stjosham.on.ca.
2
Department of Pediatrics, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
3
Department of Pediatrics, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
4
Department of Educational Psychology, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
5
Department of Pediatrics, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada; Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
6
Centre for Neuroscience Studies, Queens University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada.
7
Department of Cellular and Physiological Sciences, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

Abstract

The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is impacted by a multitude of pre- and postnatal factors. Developmental programming of HPA axis function by prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE) has been demonstrated in animal models and in human infants, but remains understudied in older children and adolescents. Moreover, early life adversity (ELA), which occurs at higher rates in children with PAE than in non-exposed children, may also play a role in programming the stress response system. In a cohort of children and adolescents with PAE and ELA (PAE + ELA), we evaluated HPA function through assessment of diurnal cortisol activity compared to that in typically developing controls, as well as the associations among specific ELAs, adverse outcomes, protective factors, and diurnal cortisol. Morning and evening saliva samples were taken under basal conditions from 42 children and adolescents (5-18 years) with PAE + ELA and 43 typically developing controls. High rates of ELA were shown among children with PAE, and significantly higher evening cortisol levels and a flatter diurnal slope were observed in children with PAE + ELA, compared to controls. Medication use in the PAE + ELA group was associated with lower morning cortisol levels, which were comparable to controls. Complex associations were found among diurnal cortisol patterns in the PAE + ELA group and a number of ELAs and later adverse outcomes, whereas protective factors were associated with more typical diurnal rhythms. These results complement findings from research on human infants and animal models showing dysregulated HPA function following PAE, lending weight to the suggestion that PAE and ELA may interact to sensitize the developing HPA axis. The presence of protective factors may buffer altered cortisol regulation, underscoring the importance of early assessment and interventions for children with FASD, and in particular, for the many children with FASD who also have ELA.

KEYWORDS:

Cortisol; Early life adversity; HPA axis; Prenatal alcohol exposure; Stress regulation

PMID:
27286932
PMCID:
PMC5280072
DOI:
10.1016/j.alcohol.2016.03.003
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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