Prenatal cocaine exposure related to cortisol stress reactivity in 11-year-old children

Barry M. Lester, Linda L. Lagasse, Seetha Shankaran, Henrietta S. Bada, Charles R. Bauer, Richard Lin, Abhik Das, Rosemary Higgins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Scopus citations


Objective: Determine the association between prenatal cocaine exposure and postnatal environmental adversity on salivary cortisol stress reactivity in school-aged children. Study design: Subjects included 743 11-year-old children (n = 320 cocaine-exposed; 423 comparison) followed since birth in a longitudinal prospective multisite study. Saliva samples were collected to measure cortisol at baseline and after a standardized procedure to induce psychological stress. Children were divided into those who showed an increase in cortisol from baseline to post stress and those who showed a decrease or blunted cortisol response. Covariates measured included site, birthweight, maternal pre and postnatal use of alcohol, tobacco or marijuana, social class, changes in caretakers, maternal depression and psychological symptoms, domestic and community violence, child abuse, and quality of the home. Results: With adjustment for confounding variables, cortisol reactivity to stress was more likely to be blunted in children with prenatal cocaine exposure. Children exposed to cocaine and who experienced domestic violence showed the strongest effects. Conclusions: The combination of prenatal cocaine exposure and an adverse postnatal environment could downregulate the hypothalamic-pituitary- adrenal axis resulting in the blunted cortisol response to stress possibly increasing risk for later psychopathology and adult disease.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)288-295.e1
JournalJournal of Pediatrics
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2010

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Supported by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) Neonatal Research Network and an interinstitute agreement with the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) through cooperative agreements: U10-DA-024117-01, U10-HD-21385 (S.S.), U10-DA-024128-06, U10-HD-2786 (H.B.), U10-DA-024119-01, U10-HD-27904 (B.L.), and U10-DA-024118-01, U10-HD-21397 (C.B.); and NICHD contract N01-HD-2-3159 (B.L.). The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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