Original article| Volume 48, ISSUE 1, P70-74, July 01, 2000

Similarity in saliva cortisol measures in monozygotic twins and the influence of past major depression

  • Elizabeth A Young
    Address reprint requests to Elizabeth A. Young, M.D., University of Michigan School of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry, Mental Health Research Institute, 205 Zina Pitcher Place, Ann Arbor MI 48109
    Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health Research Institute, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA (EAY)
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  • Steven H Aggen
    Department of Psychiatry and Human Genetics, Medical College of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia, USA (SHA, CAP, KSK)
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  • Carol A Prescott
    Department of Psychiatry and Human Genetics, Medical College of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia, USA (SHA, CAP, KSK)
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  • Kenneth S Kendler
    Department of Psychiatry and Human Genetics, Medical College of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia, USA (SHA, CAP, KSK)
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      Background: Some studies suggest that cortisol may be under genetic control. The aims of our study were to investigate the familial resemblance in morning and evening cortisol secretion as assessed by saliva cortisol and to assess the influence of history of major depression.
      Methods: Women for this investigation were selected from an ongoing study in female–female twin pairs ascertained from the Virginia Twin Registry. Telephone screening assured that current inclusion/exclusion criteria were met. Subjects were asked to collect am samples within 45 min after awakening, and evening samples immediately before bedtime for 14 days.
      Results: There was a high degree of correlation across weeks in both the am and pm cortisol values, indicating significant stability across individuals. There was significant correlation between am and pm cortisol in monozygotic twins. In twins with a history of major depression (n = 30), compared with the twins without past major depression (n = 28), there was a trend towards higher cortisol (p = .056).
      Conclusions: These results suggest that around 40–45% of the total variance in salivary cortisol is shared by monozygotic twins. Although the increase in baseline cortisol in twins with a history of major depression is only significant at the trend level, the effect size is comparable to an “in episode” depressed population.


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