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Long-term stability of cortisol production and metabolism throughout adolescence: longitudinal twin study

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Brian WalkerORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC-ND).


© The Author(s) 2020. Life-course experiences have been postulated to program hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis activity, suggesting that HPA axis activity is, at least partially, stable over time. Yet, there is paucity of data on the long-term stability of cortisol production and metabolism. We performed a prospective follow-up study in twins recruited from a nationwide register to estimate the stability of cortisol production and metabolism over time, and the contribution of genetic and environmental factors to this stability. In total, 218 healthy mono- and dizygotic twins were included. At the ages of 9, 12 and 17 years, morning urine samples were collected for assessment (by gas chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry) of cortisol metabolites, enabling the calculation of cortisol metabolite excretion rate and cortisol metabolism activity. Our results showed a low stability for both cortisol metabolite excretion rate (with correlations <.20) and cortisol metabolism activity indices (with correlations of.25 to.46 between 9 and 12 years, -.02 to.15 between 12 and 17 years and.09 to.28 between 9 and 17 years). Because of the low stability over time, genetic and environmental contributions to this stability were difficult to assess, although it seemed to be mostly determined by genetic factors. The low stability in both cortisol production and metabolism between ages 9 and 17 years reflects the dynamic nature of the HPA axis.

Publication metadata

Author(s): van Keulen BJ, Dolan CV, Andrew R, Walker BR, Hulshoff Pol HE, Boomsma DI, Rotteveel J, Finken MJJ

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Twin Research and Human Genetics

Year: 2020

Volume: 23

Issue: 1

Pages: 33-38

Print publication date: 01/02/2020

Online publication date: 25/03/2020

Acceptance date: 31/01/2020

Date deposited: 20/02/2020

ISSN (print): 1832-4274

ISSN (electronic): 1839-2628

Publisher: Cambridge University Press


DOI: 10.1017/thg.2020.6


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