Effects of early life adversity on cortisol/salivary alpha-amylase symmetry in free-ranging juvenile rhesus macaques

Lauren A. Petrullo, Tara M. Mandalaywala, Karen J. Parker, Dario Maestripieri, James P. Higham

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Early life adversity (ELA) affects physiological and behavioral development. One key component is the relationship between the developing Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis and the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS). Recent studies suggest a relationship between early life adversity and asymmetry in cortisol (a measure of HPA activation) and salivary alpha-amylase (sAA: a correlate of SNS activation) responses to stress among human children, but to our knowledge there have been no comparable studies in nonhumans. Here, we investigate the responses of these two analytes in “low stress” and “high stress” situations in free-ranging juvenile rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta) on Cayo Santiago, Puerto Rico. Behavioral data on maternal maltreatment were collected during the first 3 months of life to determine individual rates of ELA, and saliva samples were collected from subjects noninvasively during juvenility. Irrespective of ELA, salivary alpha-amylase levels were lower in low stress situations and higher in high stress situations. For cortisol however, high ELA subjects exhibited higher low stress concentrations and blunted acute responses during high stress situations compared to moderate and low ELA subjects. Cortisol and sAA values were positively correlated among low ELA subjects, suggesting symmetry, but were uncorrelated or negatively correlated among moderate and high ELA subjects, suggesting asymmetry in these individuals. These findings indicate dysregulation of the stress response among juveniles maltreated during infancy: specifically, attenuated cortisol reactivity coupled with typical sAA reactivity characterize the stress response profiles of juveniles exposed to higher rates of ELA during the first 3 months of life.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)78-84
    Number of pages7
    JournalHormones and Behavior
    StatePublished - Nov 1 2016


    • Alpha-amylase
    • Asymmetry
    • Cortisol
    • Early life adversity
    • HPA
    • Rhesus macaque
    • Stress

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Endocrinology
    • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
    • Behavioral Neuroscience


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