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Adverse childhood experiences, daytime salivary cortisol, and depressive symptoms in early adulthood: a longitudinal genetically informed twin study

Iob, E; Baldwin, JR; Plomin, R; Steptoe, A; (2021) Adverse childhood experiences, daytime salivary cortisol, and depressive symptoms in early adulthood: a longitudinal genetically informed twin study. Translational Psychiatry , 11 (1) 10.1038/s41398-021-01538-w. Green open access

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Abstract

Dysregulated hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA)-axis function might underlie the relationship between adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and depression. However, limited research has examined the possible mediating role of the HPA-axis among young people using longitudinal data. Moreover, it remains unclear whether genetic influences could contribute to these associations. Participants were 290 children from the Twins Early Development Study. ACEs were assessed from age 3–11 years. We calculated a cumulative risk score and also derived different ACEs clusters using factor analysis and latent class analysis. HPA-axis activity was indexed by daytime salivary cortisol at age 11. Depressive symptoms were ascertained at age 21. Genetic liability to altered cortisol levels and elevated depressive symptoms was measured using a twin-based method. We performed causal mediation analysis with mixed-effects regression models. The results showed that ACEs cumulative exposure (b = −0.20, p = 0.03), bullying (b = −0.61, p = 0.01), and emotional abuse (b = −0.84, p = 0.02) were associated with lower cortisol levels at age 11. Among participants exposed to multiple ACEs, lower cortisol was related to higher depressive symptoms at age 21 (b = −0.56, p = 0.05). Lower cortisol levels mediated around 10–20% of the total associations of ACEs cumulative exposure, bullying, and dysfunctional parenting/emotional abuse with higher depressive symptoms. Genetic factors contributed to these associations, but the mediation effects of cortisol in the associations of ACEs cumulative exposure (b = 0.16 [0.02–0.34]) and bullying (b = 0.18 [0.01–0.43]) remained when genetic confounding was accounted for. In conclusion, ACEs were linked to elevated depressive symptoms in early adulthood partly through lower cortisol levels in early adolescence, and these relationships were independent of genetic confounding.

Type: Article
Title: Adverse childhood experiences, daytime salivary cortisol, and depressive symptoms in early adulthood: a longitudinal genetically informed twin study
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1038/s41398-021-01538-w
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41398-021-01538-w
Language: English
Additional information: This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences > Clinical, Edu and Hlth Psychology
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Population Health Sciences > Institute of Epidemiology and Health
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Population Health Sciences > Institute of Epidemiology and Health > Behavioural Science and Health
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10132676
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