Reduced Cortisol Levels Linked to Antisocial Behavior

October 2, 2008

Adolescents with conduct disorder have higher basal levels of cortisol than their counterparts without the condition, but they secrete less of the hormone under stressful conditions, according to study findings published in the Oct. 1 issue of Biological Psychiatry.

THURSDAY, Oct. 2 (HealthDay News) -- Adolescents with conduct disorder have higher basal levels of cortisol than their counterparts without the condition, but they secrete less of the hormone under stressful conditions, according to study findings published in the Oct. 1 issue of Biological Psychiatry.

Graeme Fairchild, Ph.D., of Cambridge University in Cambridge, U.K., and colleagues conducted a study of 165 male adolescents aged 14 to 18 years, of whom 42 had been diagnosed with early-onset conduct disorder and 28 of whom had adolescent-onset conduct disorder. The remaining 95 subjects were controls.

Morning cortisol levels and the magnitude of cortisol awakening response were the same in all groups, but those in the conduct disorder groups had higher evening and 11 a.m. basal cortisol levels than the control group subjects, the researchers report. However, when the subjects underwent a psychosocial stress procedure designed to elicit frustration, those with conduct disorder had lower levels of cortisol and less cardiovascular response compared with the controls, the investigators found.

"If we can figure out precisely what underlies the inability to show a normal stress response, we may be able to design new treatments for severe behavior problems. We may also be able to create targeted interventions for those at higher risk," Fairchild explained in a statement. "A possible treatment for this disorder offers the chance to improve the lives of both the adolescents who are afflicted and the communities in which they live."

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