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Effects of Perceived Control and Cognitive Coping on Endocrine Stress Responses to Pharmacological Activation

  • James L. Abelson
    Correspondence
    Address reprint requests to James L. Abelson, M.D., Ph.D., Rachel Upjohn Building, 4250 Plymouth Rd (Room 2733), Ann Arbor, MI 48109-5765
    Affiliations
    Department of Psychiatry, Trauma, Stress and Anxiety Research Group, Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience Institute, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan
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  • Samir Khan
    Affiliations
    Department of Psychiatry, Trauma, Stress and Anxiety Research Group, Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience Institute, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan
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  • Israel Liberzon
    Affiliations
    Department of Psychiatry, Trauma, Stress and Anxiety Research Group, Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience Institute, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan
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  • Thane M. Erickson
    Affiliations
    Department of Psychiatry, Trauma, Stress and Anxiety Research Group, Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience Institute, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan
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  • Elizabeth A. Young
    Affiliations
    Department of Psychiatry, Trauma, Stress and Anxiety Research Group, Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience Institute, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan
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      Background

      The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis may mediate negative health effects of stress. It is sensitive to cognitive/emotional factors like novelty, perceived control, and coping. Psychological intervention that reduces novelty and enhances cognitive coping and sense of control can reduce cortisol responses to pentagastrin, a pharmacological HPA activator. This study attempted to identify the core factors that modulate HPA axis activity in this model.

      Methods

      Varying instructions were administered prior to drug exposure in a two-visit (placebo first) pentagastrin infusion paradigm. Healthy subjects (n = 40) were randomly assigned to one of four instruction groups: 1) standard instruction (SI); 2) full cognitive intervention (CI); 3) the CI control component alone; or 4) the CI novelty reduction/coping components alone. Blood samples were obtained via intravenous catheter before and after pentagastrin.

      Results

      Subjects receiving an intervention had smaller cortisol responses than subjects receiving standard instructions. Coping alone had as strong an impact as the more complex intervention that combined coping and control. Control alone also reduced cortisol but its HPA impact appeared less robust.

      Conclusions

      Brief psychological manipulation can significantly reduce HPA activation in challenge paradigms. Cognitive preparation that focused on side effects, reduced potential surprise, and enhanced cognitive coping modulated HPA axis activity as effectively as a previously tested intervention that combined coping and control manipulations. A sense of control alone also reduced cortisol release. The results support development of control or coping techniques to combat negative health effects of stress that are mediated by HPA axis activation.

      Key Words

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