Revista Brasileira de Psiquiatria
Print version ISSN 1516-4446
MELLO, Marcelo F. et al. Childhood maltreatment and adult psychopathology: pathways to hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis dysfunction. Rev. Bras. Psiquiatr. [online]. 2009, vol.31, suppl.2, pp. S41-S48. ISSN 1516-4446. http://dx.doi.org/10.1590/S1516-44462009000600002.
OBJECTIVE: The aim of this paper was to examine the relationship between childhood maltreatment and adult psychopathology, as reflected in hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis dysfunction. METHOD: A selective review of the relevant literature was undertaken in order to identify key and illustrative research findings. RESULTS: There is now a substantial body of preclinical and clinical evidence derived from a variety of experimental paradigms showing how early-life stress is related to hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis function and psychological state in adulthood, and how that relationship can be modulated by other factors. DISCUSSION: The risk for adult psychopathology and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis dysfunction is related to a complex interaction among multiple experiential factors, as well as to susceptibility genes that interact with those factors. Although acute hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis responses to stress are generally adaptive, excessive responses can lead to deleterious effects. Early-life stress alters hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis function and behavior, but the pattern of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal dysfunction and psychological outcome in adulthood reflect both the characteristics of the stressor and other modifying factors. CONCLUSION: Research to date has identified multiple determinants of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis dysfunction seen in adults with a history of childhood maltreatment or other early-life stress. Further work is needed to establish whether hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis abnormalities in this context can be used to develop risk endophenotypes for psychiatric and physical illnesses.
Keywords : Cortisol; Risk factor; Psychopathology; Child abuse; Hypothalamus.