Dysregulation of diurnal cortisol secretion patterns may explain the link between adversities early in life and later mental health problems. However, few studies have investigated the influence of social disadvantage and family adversity on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis early in life. In 366 infants aged 12-20 months from the Generation R Study, a population-based cohort from fetal life onwards, parents collected saliva samples from their infant at 5 moments over the course of 1 day. The area under the curve (AUC), the cortisol awakening response (CAR) and the diurnal cortisol slope were calculated as different composite measures of the diurnal cortisol rhythm. Information about social disadvantage and early adversity was collected using prenatal and postnatal questionnaires. We found that older infants showed lower AUC levels; moreover, infants with a positive CAR were significantly older. Both the AUC and the CAR were related to indicators of social disadvantage and early adversity. Infants of low income families, in comparison to high income families, showed higher AUC levels and a positive CAR. Infants of mothers who smoked during pregnancy were also significantly more likely to show a positive CAR. Furthermore, infants of mothers experiencing parenting stress showed higher AUC levels. The results of our study show that effects of social disadvantage and early adversity on the diurnal cortisol rhythm are already observable in infants. This may reflect the influence of early negative life events on early maturation of the HPA axis.

Birth weight, Cortisol, Cortisol awakening response, Diurnal rhythm, Family adversity, Infants, Socio-economic status
dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.yhbeh.2009.12.001, hdl.handle.net/1765/27374
Hormones and Behavior
Erasmus MC: University Medical Center Rotterdam

Saridjan, N.S, Huizink, A.C, Koetsier, J.A, Jaddoe, V.W.V, Mackenbach, J.P, Hofman, A, … Tiemeier, H.W. (2010). Do social disadvantage and early family adversity affect the diurnal cortisol rhythm in infants? The Generation R Study. Hormones and Behavior, 57(2), 247–254. doi:10.1016/j.yhbeh.2009.12.001