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Journal Article

Investigation into the cross-correlation of salivary cortisol and alpha-amylase responses to psychological stress


Engert,  Veronika
Douglas Mental Health University Institute, McGill University, Montréal, QC, Canada;
Department Social Neuroscience, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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Engert, V., Vogel, S., Efanov, S. I., Duchesne, A., Corbo, V., Ali, N., et al. (2011). Investigation into the cross-correlation of salivary cortisol and alpha-amylase responses to psychological stress. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 36(9), 1294-1302. doi:10.1016/j.psyneuen.2011.02.018.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-0012-1660-9
Stress is a multidimensional construct. To accurately represent stress physiology, multiple stress measures across multiple stress-related systems should be assessed. However, associations may be masked given that different systems underlie different time courses. Salivary cortisol and alpha-amylase (sAA) are reliable biological stress markers of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the hypothalamus pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis, respectively. Studies examining the link between sAA and cortisol levels in response to stress have produced inconsistent results. Here, we investigated whether the covariance of stress-induced sAA and cortisol release is dependent on the distinct temporal dynamics of the two stress markers. A total of 50 male participants were exposed to a psychological laboratory stressor with high frequency (2-min interval) saliva sampling in two independent studies. Synchronized time series of sAA and cortisol measures before, during and after stress induction were obtained. Cross-correlation analysis was applied to test for the association of sAA and cortisol levels at various stages relative to the onset of the stressor. Positive and negative cross-correlations between lagged pairs of sAA and cortisol measures were found in both studies. The strongest correlation was found for sAA preceding cortisol release by 13.5 min (r = .27, p < .001). With a smaller effect size cortisol also significantly preceded sAA by 13.5 min (r = −.16, p < .001). We suggest that sAA and cortisol stress responses are reliably associated at various time lags throughout a stressful situation. As a possible connection site between HPA axis and SNS that may underlie sAA-cortisol associations, we discuss CRF neurons of the hypothalamus involved in sympathetic regulation.