Interactions between biological vulnerability and environmental adversity are central to the pathophysiology of depression. Given evidence that the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis influences biological responses to environmental events, in the current longitudinal study the authors examined HPA-axis functioning, negative life events, and their interaction as predictors of the first onset of depression. At baseline, girls ages 9 to 14 years provided saliva samples to assess levels of diurnal cortisol production, quantified by total cortisol production (area under the curve with respect to ground; AUCg) and the cortisol awakening response (CAR). The authors then followed these participants until they reached age 18 in order to assess their subsequent experience of negative life events and the onset of a depressive episode. They found that the influence of negative life events on the subsequent onset of depression depended on HPA-axis functioning at baseline. Specifically, negative life events predicted the onset of depression in girls with higher levels of AUCg, but not in girls with lower levels of AUCg. In contrast, CAR did not predict the onset of depression either alone or in interaction with negative life events. These findings suggest that elevated total cortisol production in daily life potentiates susceptibility to environmental adversity and signals the need for early intervention.
View details for DOI 10.1037/abn0000087
View details for PubMedID 26595472
View details for PubMedCentralID PMC4662047