Increased alpha-amylase response to an acute psychosocial stress challenge in healthy adults with childhood adversity

Dev Psychobiol. 2017 Jan;59(1):91-98. doi: 10.1002/dev.21470. Epub 2016 Aug 30.


Childhood adversity is highly prevalent and linked to lasting psychological and physiological consequences. A potential mechanism for negative health outcomes is altered stress reactivity. While previous research has addressed associations of childhood adversity with stress system reactivity, sympathetic nervous system (SNS) stress reactivity is understudied. We therefore set out here to examining salivary alpha-amylase (sAA) reactivity in relation with childhood adversity. Forty-one healthy adult subjects (n = 24 male; n = 17 female) aged 18-34 years underwent the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) and completed the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire (CTQ). Saliva for measurement of sAA was collected at three time points; before the TSST, immediately after, and 10 min post-TSST. We found that those with childhood trauma had a higher overall sAA response to the TSST, as seen in a repeated measures ANOVA (CTQ by time interaction: F(1.8,71.5) = 6.46, p = .01) and an independent samples t-test indicating higher sAA baseline to peak response (t = 3.22, p = .003). There was also a positive correlation between sAA reactivity and the CTQ subscales of childhood physical abuse (r = .46, p = .005) and emotional abuse (r = .37, p = .024). Healthy adults with low-to-moderate childhood adversity had a heightened sAA response immediately following the stressor. Higher SNS reactivity could be a link to negative health outcomes in adults with early adversity. Future research should address whether altered sAA reactivity is predictive of negative health outcomes in those with childhood adversity.

Keywords: amylase; early adversity; stress; sympathetic nervous system.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Adult Survivors of Child Adverse Events*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Salivary alpha-Amylases / metabolism*
  • Stress, Psychological / metabolism*
  • Young Adult


  • Salivary alpha-Amylases