Plasma beta-endorphin, adrenocorticotropin hormone, and cortisol in autism

J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 1997 Sep;38(6):705-15. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7610.1997.tb01697.x.


Plasma levels of the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal axis hormones beta-endorphin (BE), adrenocorticotropin hormone (ACTH), and cortisol were measured in autistic (N = 48), mentally retarded/cognitively impaired (MR/CI, N = 16), and normal control (N = 26) individuals. Comparison of log transformed data from the three groups revealed that levels of BE and ACTH were significantly higher (p < .05) in the autistic individuals than in normal controls. The higher means in the autistic group were due to significantly higher plasma levels of BE and ACTH, indices of acute stress response, in the more severely affected individuals. The data support the idea that individuals with severe autism have a heightened response to acute stressors rather than chronic hyperarousal or elevated basal stress response system functioning.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone / blood*
  • Arousal / physiology
  • Autistic Disorder / physiopathology
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / blood*
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / physiopathology
  • Intellectual Disability / physiopathology
  • Intelligence / physiology
  • Male
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / physiopathology
  • Reference Values
  • beta-Endorphin / blood*


  • beta-Endorphin
  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone
  • Hydrocortisone