Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) activity in kindergarten children: importance of gender and associations with behavioral/emotional difficulties

J Psychiatr Res. 2007 Nov;41(10):861-70. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychires.2006.07.012. Epub 2006 Sep 18.


The current cross-sectional study investigated basal and stress-challenged hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) system function in 102 five-year old kindergarten children (59 boys, 43 girls) who had been assessed by a comprehensive psychological and behavioral test battery. Baseline HPA system activity was significantly increased in girls when compared to boys (p<0.001). Furthermore, basal HPA system activity predicted a high hormonal release during stress with--again--girls showing higher hormonal responses than boys (p<0.01). Importantly, increased HPA system activity (baseline and stress-challenged) was significantly associated with hyperactivity/impulsivity and emotional problems in boys and with positive emotions in girls (p<0.05). These results suggest an occurrence of neurobiological alterations early in development. The observed neurobiological changes are gender specific already at the age of 5 years. Prospective long-term follow up of the identified subjects with HPA axis alterations will clarify if these markers are predictive for the onset of psychiatric disorders.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Affective Symptoms / physiopathology*
  • Age Factors
  • Arousal / physiology
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / physiopathology
  • Child Behavior Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / blood
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / physiopathology*
  • Impulsive Behavior / physiopathology
  • Life Change Events
  • Male
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / physiopathology*
  • Saliva / metabolism
  • Sex Factors


  • Hydrocortisone