STRESS RESEARCH

Third Party Funding: FWF 472003; 440,000.00 € (together with Wilfried Datler/University Vienna),
and European Social Fund (S1.408.6007.06_8789); 80,000.00 €

Research Spot 1: Diurnal Cortisol Rhythm

Exposure to stressful events during early development has consistently been shown to produce long-lasting alterations in the HPA axis activity, which increases the vulnerability of developing physical and mental diseases. However, current research on children’s stress regulation is contradictory, perhaps because most approaches are borrowed from adult stress research. We thus carefully analyze the diurnal circadian cortisol rhythm in a large sample of young children. We aim to clarify whether the diurnal rhythm of cortisol release in young children reveals similar characteristics to the known ones, so that intercepts and slopes commonly used to describe adult diurnal cortisol profiles are applicable. Furthermore, we search for trajectories of different cortisol profiles in data sets of children born full and preterm, that also provide information on their competencies and care environments.

Associates: Felix Deichmann, Bernhard Piskernik, and Lieselotte Ahnert

Research Spot 2: Implications of Stress in Disadvantaged Homes

Existing research on disadvantaged families overwhelmingly maintains risks for child development and health associated with low SES (i.e., low income and parental education), detrimental living ecologies, poor neighborhoods, community violence, family turmoil, difficult parental personalities, and histories. Based on these economic and ecological shortcomings, we explore the impact on parenting and parental psychological well-being. However, because the HPA axis is vulnerable to social stress caused by long-lasting negative interactions and poor attachments, we are foremost interested in determining negative as well as compensatory effects on child stress regulation.

Associates: Tina Eckstein-Madry, Bernhard Piskernik, and Lieselotte Ahnert

Research Spot 3: Epigenetic Effects on the HPA Axis

With knowledge of the genes involved in complex basic functions like stress regulation, we can improve our understanding of the mechanisms and moderators of normal and altered stress response. Unfortunately, there are only a limited number of studies examining the association between candidate genes and the stress response. Based on a cooperation with the molecular genetic lab of Klaus-Peter Lesch at the University of Wuerzburg, we explore a set of genes which might constitute different HPA axis activities in a sample of children who differ in major aspects of their developmental status, especially their ability in emotional regulation. Searching for genetic risk factors which are assumed to be responsible for an inappropriate response to daily challenges, we aim to describe vulnerability for stress through complex modeling.

Associates: Felix Deichmann, Bernhard Piskernik, Klaus-Peter Lesch, and Lieselotte Ahnert