ESPE Abstracts (2018) 89 P-P1-023

Associations Between Maternal and Offspring Hair Cortisol Concentrations and Child Behavioral Symptoms in Pairs of Children 18-48 Months Old and their Mothers With and Without Perinatal Mental Disorders

Anna Agapakia, Fenia Papagiannia, Eleni Valavania, Ioannis Zervasb, Aimilia Mantziouc, Stamatina Kanellib, Areti Spyropouloub, George Chrousosa,c & Panagiota Pervanidoua


aDivision of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, First Department of Pediatrics, University of Athens, School of Medicine, “Aghia Sophia” Children’s Hospital, Athens, Greece; bWomen’s Mental Health Clinic, First Department of Psychiatry, University of Athens, School of Medicine, “Aiginiteion” Hospital, Athens, Greece; cUnit of Clinical and Translational Research in Endocrinology, First Department of Pediatrics, University of Athens, School of Medicine, “Aghia Sophia” Children’s Hospital, Athens, Greece


Introduction: Maternal perinatal mental disorders (PMDs) are associated with developmental and behavioral problems in the offspring, probably mediated by the programming of the limbic-hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (LHPA) axis. Increased or decreased cortisol concentrations during pregnancy and the perinatal period have been associated with alterations in the stress responses of the offspring and with child behavioral problems; however, such associations remain unclear.

Methods: We compared 16 mothers with PMDs and their children (18-48 months) with 30 aged-matched control mothers and their children (92 individuals in total). Participants of both groups were evaluated with a clinical interview, the Depression Anxiety Stress Scale (DASS-42) and the Child Behavior Checklist 1½-5 (CBCL 1½-5) questionnaires. We measured mother and child hair cortisol concentrations, which is a reliable biomarker of chronic stress exposure.

Results: Children of the PMD group had increased symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (P=0.035) compared to the control group. The PMD mothers had lower hair cortisol concentrations (11.8±8.2 mg/dl) than the control mothers (13.9±9 mg/dl), however, the difference was not statistically significant (P=0.471). Similarly, children of the PMD group had lower hair cortisol concentrations (12±9.7 mg/dl) than the controls (15.9±17.4 mg/dl), but this difference was not significant (P=0.455). A positive linear association between maternal and child hair cortisol concentrations was found in the total sample of mother-child pairs (r=0.63, P<0.001), as well as in the control group separately (r=0.63, P<0.001). This association, however, was not significant in the PMD group (r=0.57, P=0.05). In the PMD group, child ‘anxiety/depression’ symptoms were associated with child hair cortisol concentrations (r=0.57, P=0.042). In the same group (PMDs) symptoms of ‘aggressive behavior’ and ‘oppositional/defiant problems’ of children were significantly associated with both their hair cortisol concentrations (r=0.67, P=0.013; r=0.58, P=0.037) and with their mothers’ hair cortisol concentrations (r=0.61, P=0.028; r=0.58, P=0.039, respectively).

Conclusions: These findings suggest that a chronic dysregulation of maternal and child HPA axis in the PMD pairs may underlie the associations between chronic maternal stress and child behavioral and emotional problems and stress responses.