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When babies awake: New study shows surprise regarding important hormone level
Date:12/1/2011

Athens, Ga. Cortisol may be the Swiss Army knife of hormones in the human body -- just when scientists think they understand what it does, another function pops up. While many of these functions are understood for adults, much less is known about how cortisol operates in babies and toddlers, especially when it comes to an important phenomenon called the cortisol awakening response, or CAR.

For the first time, psychology researchers from the University of Georgia Franklin College of Arts and Sciences have shown that this response for infants is opposite of what it is for adults. The new information could have implications for how infants handle stress and why proper care from their mothers could affect how growing children react to cortisol in later life.

"Surprisingly, the CAR hasn't been widely studied in infants or young children," said psychology doctoral student Melissa Bright, who led the study. "There is consensus that the adult pattern of cortisol response isn't present at birth, but much less is known about when in the first year of life it is established."

Other authors of the research, just published online in the journal Developmental Psychobiology, are Janet Frick, a faculty member in UGA's department of psychology and director of the UGA Infant Research Lab, and Douglas Granger of Johns Hopkins School of Nursing.

Cortisol is produced in the adrenal gland and has dozens of jobs in the body. It is released in response to stress and can increase blood sugar, suppress the immune system and aid in metabolism. And yet it works in vastly more arenas than those. One such area is the CAR, and when adults awake, an organ "team" called the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis works together to release cortisol -- somewhat as a sentinel -- alerting the body to stress or threats.

The new study discovered that in infants, cortisol levels actually didn't increase but stayed stable from the time they awoke in th
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Contact: Melissa Bright
mbright@uga.edu
706-542-2174
University of Georgia
Source:Eurekalert

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