Salivary alpha amylase-cortisol asymmetry in maltreated youth

Elana B. Gordis, Douglas A. Granger, Elizabeth J. Susman, Penelope K. Trickett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

174 Scopus citations


Background: Maltreatment represents a major stressor in the lives of many youth. Given the known effects of stress exposure on subsequent functioning of biological stress response systems, researchers have been interested in the effects of maltreatment on the functioning of these systems. Experimental studies reveal that previous exposure to stress affects the symmetry between components of the physiological stress response to subsequent stress. The present study examined asymmetry between salivary alpha amylase (sAA), a sympathetic indicator, and cortisol reactivity to a social stressor among maltreated and comparison youth age 9 to 14 years. Consistent with earlier studies suggesting that stress leads to asymmetry between hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and sympathetic nervous system activity, we expected that maltreated youth would exhibit greater sAA-cortisol asymmetry than would comparison youth. Methods: Forty-seven maltreated and 37 comparison youth visited the laboratory and engaged in a social stress protocol. We collected 2 saliva samples before the stressor and 4 after, at 0 min post-stress and every 10 min for 30 min. Results: Maltreatment status moderated the relation between sAA and cortisol activity in response to the stressor. Comparison youth showed significant links between the sAA and cortisol responses; maltreated youth had no significant associations between responses in the two biomarkers. Conclusion: The data were consistent with sAA-cortisol asymmetry among maltreated youth. Further research should seek to replicate this finding and investigate its implication for developmental trajectories.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)96-103
Number of pages8
JournalHormones and Behavior
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Adolescence
  • Child maltreatment
  • Cortisol
  • Salivary alpha-amylase
  • Social stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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