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International Clinical Psychopharmacology:
doi: 10.1097/YIC.0b013e328364ecd1
Original Articles

Association of DHEA, DHEAS, and cortisol with childhood trauma exposure and post-traumatic stress disorder

Van Voorhees, Elizabeth E.a,b,c; Dennis, Michelle F.c; Calhoun, Patrick S.a,b,c; Beckham, Jean C.a,b,c

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Abstract

There has been a great deal of interest in the role of the neuroendocrine hormones of the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis in the expression of stress-related psychopathology such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This investigation examined the association of PTSD and childhood maltreatment with three key HPA axis hormones: cortisol, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), and dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEAS). Regression analyses were undertaken on a sample of 43 participants with and 57 participants without PTSD. Results demonstrated that after controlling for age, sex, and PTSD status, exposure to childhood maltreatment was significantly associated with cortisol secretion [F(4,95)=11.68, ΔR2=0.11, P=0.0009] and cortisol/DHEA ratio [F(4,95)=6.20, ΔR2=0.05, P=0.01]. PTSD status was not associated with any of these neuroendocrine variables. Findings are discussed in the context of the complexity of the relationship of these neuroendocrine variables with trauma exposure and trauma-related psychopathology. It is suggested that DHEA(S) or cortisol/DHEA(S) ratios may not be biomarkers of specific forms of psychopathology per se, but that, instead, the severity and developmental timing of trauma may set the HPA axis in ways that are reflected in interactions among these neuroendocrine hormones. In adulthood, these HPA axis hormones may continue to be dynamically affected by personal and environmental resources.

© 2013 Wolters Kluwer Health | Lippincott Williams & Wilkins

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