Coordination of cortisol response to social evaluative threat with autonomic and inflammatory responses is moderated by stress appraisals and affect

Biol Psychol. 2016 Jul;118:17-24. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsycho.2016.04.066. Epub 2016 May 4.


Recent approaches to stress regulation have emphasized coordination among multiple biological systems. This study builds on evidence that hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis activity should be considered in coordination with other stress-sensitive biological systems to characterize healthy responses. Healthy African-Americans (n=115) completed the Trier Social Stress Test, and biological responses were assessed through salivary cortisol, dehydroepiandrosterone-sulfate (DHEA-S), alpha amylase (sAA), and C-reactive protein (sCRP). Multilevel modeling demonstrated that cortisol responses typically aligned with changes in DHEA-S, sAA, and sCRP across the session. At the same time, the degree of cortisol coordination with sAA and sCRP varied by participants' subjective stress following the task; participants with higher secondary stress appraisals showed greater cortisol-sAA alignment, whereas those experiencing more negative affect showed greater cortisol-sCRP alignment. Results highlight the importance of a multisystem approach to stress and suggest that positive HPA axis coordination with the autonomic response, but not with the immune/inflammatory response, may be adaptive.

Keywords: Alpha-amylase; C-reactive protein; Coordination; Cortisol; DHEA-S; Stress; Trier Social Stress Test.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • African Americans / psychology*
  • Autonomic Nervous System / metabolism*
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • C-Reactive Protein / metabolism
  • Dehydroepiandrosterone Sulfate / metabolism
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / metabolism*
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Michigan
  • Middle Aged
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / metabolism*
  • Saliva / metabolism
  • Stress, Psychological / metabolism*
  • Young Adult
  • alpha-Amylases / metabolism


  • Biomarkers
  • Dehydroepiandrosterone Sulfate
  • C-Reactive Protein
  • alpha-Amylases
  • Hydrocortisone