Effects of gender and cigarette smoking on reactivity to psychological and pharmacological stress provocation

Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2008 Jun;33(5):560-8. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2008.01.012. Epub 2008 Mar 5.


We examined the influence of gender and smoking status on reactivity in two human laboratory stress paradigms. Participants were 46 (21 men, 25 women) healthy individuals who completed the Trier Social Stress Task (i.e., performed speech and math calculations in front of an audience) and a pharmacological stress provocation (i.e., administration of corticotrophin releasing hormone (CRH)) after an overnight hospital stay. Approximately half (53%) of the participants were smokers. Cortisol, adrenocorticotrophin hormone (ACTH), physiologic measures (heart rate, blood pressure), and subjective stress were assessed at baseline and at several time points post-task. Men demonstrated higher baseline ACTH and blood pressure as compared to women; however, ACTH and blood pressure responses were more pronounced in women. Women smokers evidenced a more blunted cortisol response as compared to non-smoking women, whereas smoking status did not affect the cortisol response in men. Finally, there was a more robust cardiovascular and subjective response to the Trier as compared to the CRH. Although preliminary, the findings suggest that women may be more sensitive than men to the impact of cigarette smoking on cortisol response. In addition, there is some evidence for a more robust neuroendocrine and physiologic response to acute laboratory stress in women as compared to men.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone / blood*
  • Adult
  • Blood Pressure*
  • Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone / administration & dosage*
  • Female
  • Heart Rate*
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / blood*
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / physiopathology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / physiopathology
  • Research Design
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Sex Factors
  • Smoking / blood
  • Smoking / physiopathology*
  • Stress, Physiological / blood
  • Stress, Physiological / physiopathology*
  • Stress, Psychological / blood
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology*


  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone
  • Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone
  • Hydrocortisone