Child maltreatment is a potent stressor associated with neuroendocrine dysregulation and increased risk for mental and physical disorders throughout the lifespan. Gender differences in stress reactivity and adult psychopathology prevalence may be related to sex-specific responsivity to stress. The purpose of this study is to examine whether gender interacts with the stress of maltreatment to produce differential neuroendocrine profiles in children. Participants included 137 maltreated and 110 nonmaltreated low-income, racially and ethnically diverse children (range: 7.9-10.9 years; M= 9.42 years; 52% male) who attended a summer research day camp. Saliva was collected 3 times across the day for 5 days for cortisol and dehydroepiandosterone (DHEA) analysis. Department of Human Services records were examined to determine the type, severity, chronicity, onset, and recency of maltreatment for children in the maltreated group. Significant interactions between gender and maltreatment pervasiveness predicted diurnal cortisol, DHEA, and cortisol/DHEA ratio levels. Elevated daily cortisol levels were reported for boys compared to girls in the group with more pervasive maltreatment. Boys with less pervasive maltreatment had lower DHEA and higher cortisol/DHEA ratio levels than girls with similar experiences, nonmaltreated boys, and boys with more pervasive maltreatment. Further results are consistent with down-regulation of cortisol production in girls with more pervasive maltreatment and girls who experienced maltreatment that was early onset and not recent. The effectiveness of interventions for maltreated children may be improved with greater knowledge of how maltreatment differentially affects neuroendocrine regulation by gender.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This research was supported by funding from the National Institute of Mental Health ( MH083979 ) and the Spunk Fund, Inc. In addition, an NIMH training grant (T32MH015755, Dante Cicchetti, PI) supported Jenalee Doom.
Copyright 2014 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.
- Child maltreatment
- Health disparities
- Sex differences