Effects of interpersonal violence-related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) on mother and child diurnal cortisol rhythm and cortisol reactivity to a laboratory stressor involving separation.Horm Behav. 2017 04; 90:15-24.HB
Women who have experienced interpersonal violence (IPV) are at a higher risk to develop posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), with dysregulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and impaired social behavior. Previously, we had reported impaired maternal sensitivity and increased difficulty in identifying emotions (i.e. alexithymia) among IPV-PTSD mothers. One of the aims of the present study was to examine maternal IPV-PTSD salivary cortisol levels diurnally and reactive to their child's distress in relation to maternal alexithymia. Given that mother-child interaction during infancy and early childhood has important long-term consequences on the stress response system, toddlers' cortisol levels were assessed during the day and in response to a laboratory stressor. Mothers collected their own and their 12-48month-old toddlers' salivary samples at home three times: 30min after waking up, between 2-3pm and at bedtime. Moreover, mother-child dyads participated in a 120-min laboratory session, consisting of 3 phases: baseline, stress situation (involving mother-child separation and exposure to novelty) and a 60-min regulation phase. Compared to non-PTSD controls, IPV-PTSD mothers - but not their toddlers, had lower morning cortisol and higher bedtime cortisol levels. As expected, IPV-PTSD mothers and their children showed blunted cortisol reactivity to the laboratory stressor. Maternal cortisol levels were negatively correlated to difficulty in identifying emotions. Our data highlights PTSD-IPV-related alterations in the HPA system and its relevance to maternal behavior. Toddlers of IPV-PTSD mothers also showed an altered pattern of cortisol reactivity to stress that potentially may predispose them to later psychological disorders.