Childhood Parental Loss and Adult Hypothalamic-Pituitary- Adrenal Function

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Childhood Parental Loss and Adult Hypothalamic-Pituitary- Adrenal Function

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Title: Childhood Parental Loss and Adult Hypothalamic-Pituitary- Adrenal Function
Author: Tyrka, Audrey R.; Wier, Lauren; Price, Lawrence H; Ross, Nicole; Anderson, George M.; Wilkinson, Charles W.; Carpenter, Linda L.
Abstract: Background—Several decades of research link childhood parental loss with risk for major depression and other forms of psychopathology. A large body of preclinical work on maternal separation and some recent studies of humans with childhood parental loss have demonstrated alterations of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis function which could predispose to the development of psychiatric disorders. Methods—Eighty-eight healthy adults with no current Axis I psychiatric disorder participated in this study. Forty-four participants experienced parental loss during childhood, including 19 with a history of parental death and 25 with a history of prolonged parental separation. The loss group was compared to a matched group of individuals who reported no history of childhood parental separation or childhood maltreatment. Participants completed diagnostic interviews and questionnaires and the dexamethasone/corticotropin-releasing hormone (Dex/CRH) test. Repeated measures general linear models were used to test the effects of parental loss, a measure of parental care, sex, and age on the hormone responses to the Dex/CRH test.Results—Parental loss was associated with increased cortisol responses to the test, particularly in males. The effect of loss was moderated by levels of parental care; participants with parental desertion and very low levels of care had attenuated cortisol responses. ACTH responses to the Dex/CRH test did not differ significantly as a function of parental loss. Conclusions—These findings are consistent with the hypothesis that early parental loss induces enduring changes in neuroendocrine function.

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