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Family history, early adversity and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis: Mediation of the vulnerability to mood disorders

Authors Stuart Watson, Bruce M Owen, Peter Gallagher, Andrea J Hearn, Allan H Young, et al

Published 15 November 2007 Volume 2007:3(5) Pages 647—653


Stuart Watson, Bruce M Owen, Peter Gallagher, Andrea J Hearn, Allan H Young, I Nicol Ferrier

Stanley Research Centre; School of Neurology, Neurobiology and Psychiatry; University of Newcastle upon Tyne, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK

Abstract: The effect of early-life vulnerability factors on the subsequent pathophysiology of severe mood disorders has yet to be fully elucidated. This study examines the relationship between early adverse life experience, family history and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis function. Childhood trauma questionnaire (CTQ) scores, family history data and the cortisol response to the dexamethasone/corticotrophin releasing hormone (dex/CRH) test were examined in 40 patients with severe mood disorder. Normative data for the CTQ was also obtained. The study demonstrated that mood disorder patients reporting high levels of childhood emotional neglect (n = 26) had an HPA axis response which did not differ from controls, whereas patients reporting low levels (n = 19) had an enhanced response (p = 0.011). A positive family history of mood disorder further enhanced this response. These data suggest that early adverse life events and genetic susceptibility have dissociable effects on glucocorticoid receptor-mediated negative feedback of the HPA axis in adult patients with severe mood disorders.
Keywords: childhood trauma, cortisol, bipolar disorder, chronic depression, family history

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