Cortisol reactivity to social stress in adolescents: role of depression severity and child maltreatment

Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2011 Feb;36(2):173-81. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2010.07.006. Epub 2010 Aug 4.


This study examined the hypothesis that depressed adolescents with a history of childhood maltreatment will show greater cortisol reactivity to psychological stress challenge than those without, and this relation will be moderated by level of depression severity. Seventy-one adolescents were exposed to the Trier Social Stress Test. Salivary cortisol was assessed at baseline, immediately before the challenge, after the challenge, and during an extended recovery period. Childhood maltreatment was assessed with a rigorous contextual interview and rating system. Adolescents with a history of maltreatment produced higher and more prolonged levels of cortisol in response to the challenge than did adolescents with no maltreatment, but only among those with a mild/moderate level of depression severity. Those with moderate/severe depression exhibited a blunted cortisol response regardless of child maltreatment history. These findings indicate that depression is a heterogeneous syndrome, and that both depression severity and child maltreatment history should be considered in studies examining biological stress reactivity.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child Abuse / psychology*
  • Child Abuse / rehabilitation
  • Depression / complications
  • Depression / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / analysis
  • Hydrocortisone / metabolism*
  • Interview, Psychological
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Saliva / chemistry
  • Saliva / metabolism
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Social Adjustment
  • Stress, Psychological / complications
  • Stress, Psychological / metabolism*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult


  • Hydrocortisone