Gender differences in the effect of early life trauma on hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis functioning

Stacia M. Desantis, Nathaniel L. Baker, Sudie E. Back, Eve Spratt, Jody D. Ciolino, Megan Moran-Santa Maria, Bandyopadhyay Dipankar, Kathleen T. Brady

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

79 Scopus citations


Background: The objective of this study was to examine the modifying effect of gender on the association between early life trauma and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis response to a pharmacologic challenge and a social stress task in men and women. Participants (16 men, 23 women) were the control sample of a larger study examining HPA axis function. Individuals with major depressive disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, or psychotic or eating disorders were excluded. Methods: In two test sessions, subjects received 1μg/kg of corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) intravenously and participated in the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST). Primary outcomes included plasma cortisol and corticotropin levels measured at baseline and more than five time points following the challenges. Predictors included gender and early life trauma, as measured by the Early Trauma Index. Using factor analysis, the domains general trauma, severe trauma, and the effects of trauma were established. Using regression, these constructs were used to predict differential HPA reactivity in men and women following the challenges. Results: The three factors accounted for the majority of the variance in the ETI. Following the CRH challenge, women had higher overall corticotropin response as dictated by the area under the curve analysis. There were no significant associations between trauma and neuroendocrine response to the TSST. Conclusions: CRH challenge results indicate that gender differences in the impact of early trauma may help explain the differential gender susceptibility to psychopathology following adverse childhood events. This may help explain gender differences in some stress-sensitive psychiatric disorders. Depression and Anxiety, 2011.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)383-392
Number of pages10
JournalDepression and anxiety
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2011


  • HPA axis
  • corticotropin
  • cortisol
  • gender
  • hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis
  • trauma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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