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Effects of interpersonal violence-related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) on mother and child diurnal cortisol rhythm and cortisol reactivity to a laboratory stressor involving separation

Cordero Campaña, MI, Moser, DA, Manini, A, Suardi, F, Sancho Rossignol, A, Torrisi, R, Rossier, MF, Ansermet, F, Dayer, AG, Rusconi Serpa, S and Schechter, DS (2017) Effects of interpersonal violence-related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) on mother and child diurnal cortisol rhythm and cortisol reactivity to a laboratory stressor involving separation. Hormones and Behavior, 90. pp. 15-24. ISSN 0018-506X

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Abstract

Women who have experienced interpersonal violence (IPV) are at a higher risk to develop posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), with dysregulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and impaired social behavior. Previously, we had reported impaired maternal sensitivity and increased difficulty in identifying emotions (i.e. alexithymia) among IPV-PTSD mothers. One of the aims of the present study was to examine maternal IPV-PTSD salivary cortisol levels diurnally and reactive to their child’s distress in relation to maternal alexithymia. Given that mother-child interaction during infancy and early childhood has important long-term consequences on the stress response system, toddlers’ cortisol levels were assessed during the day and in response to a laboratory stressor. Mothers collected their own and their 12-48 month-old toddlers’ salivary samples at home three times: 30 min after waking up, between 2-3 pm and at bedtime. Moreover, mother-child dyads articipated in a 120-min laboratory session, consisting of 3 phases: baseline, stress situation (involving mother-child separation and exposure to novelty) and a 60-min regulation phase. Compared to non-PTSD controls, IPV-PTSD mothers -but not their toddlers-, had lower morning cortisol and higher bedtime cortisol levels. As expected, IPV-PTSD mothers and their children showed blunted cortisol reactivity to the laboratory stressor. Maternal cortisol levels were negatively correlated to difficulty in identifying emotions. Our data highlights PTSDIPV-related alterations in the HPA system and its relevance to maternal behavior. Toddlers of IPV-PTSD mothers also showed an altered pattern of cortisol reactivity to stress that potentially may predispose them to later psychological disorders.

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