Genetic and environmental influences on individual differences in cortisol level and circadian rhythm in middle childhood

Carol A. Van Hulle, Elizabeth A. Shirtcliff, Kathryn Lemery, H. Hill Goldsmith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

44 Scopus citations

Abstract

Individuals differ widely in cortisol output over the day, but the etiology of these individual differences remains poorly understood. Twin studies are useful for quantifying genetic and environmental influences on the variation in cortisol output, lending insight into underlying influences on the components of Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis functioning. Salivary cortisol was assayed on 446 twin pairs (157 monozygotic, 289 dizygotic; ages 7-8). Parents helped youth collect saliva 30. min after waking, mid-afternoon, and 30. min prior to bedtime across 3 consecutive days. We used hierarchical linear modeling to extract predicted cortisol levels and to distinguish cortisol's diurnal rhythm using a slopes-as-outcome piecewise growth curve model; two slopes captured the morning-to-afternoon and afternoon-to-evening rhythm, respectively. Separate genetic models were then fit to cortisol level at waking, mid-afternoon, and evening as well as the diurnal rhythm across morning-to-afternoon and afternoon-to-evening hours. Three results from these analyses are striking. First, morning-to-afternoon cortisol level showed the highest additive genetic variance (heritability), consistent with prior research. Second, cortisol's diurnal rhythm had an additive genetic component, particularly across the morning-to-afternoon hours. In contrast, additive genetic variation did not significantly contribute to variation in afternoon-to-evening slope. Third, the majority of variance in cortisol concentration was associated with shared family environments. In summary, both genetic and environmental factors influence cortisol's circadian rhythm, and they do so differentially across the day.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)36-42
Number of pages7
JournalHormones and Behavior
Volume62
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jun 1 2012

Keywords

  • Behavior genetics
  • Cortisol
  • Diurnal rhythm
  • HPA axis
  • Twins

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Behavioral Neuroscience

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