Archives of Disease in Childhood: Fetal & Neonatal
BMJ Publishing Group
School of Nursing and Midwifery
Theirworld MRC Centre for Reproductive Health British Heart Foundation
Objective To determine if preterm birth is associated with adaptation of the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis and whether HPA axis programming relates to the degree of prematurity (defined as extremely preterm birth at < 28 weeks or very preterm birth at 28–32 weeks gestation). Design This study reports findings from a prospective birth cohort. Saliva cortisol concentrations were measured prevaccination and postvaccination, and in the morning and evening, at 4 months chronological age. Setting Infants born at a single Scottish hospital. Participants 45 term-born, 42 very preterm and 16 extremely preterm infants. Outcomes Cortisol stress response to vaccination (postvaccination minus prevaccination cortisol concentrations), diurnal slope (log-transformed morning minus log-transformed evening cortisol values) and mean log-transformed daily cortisol. Results Compared with infants born at term, infants born extremely preterm had a blunted cortisol response to vaccination (5.8 nmol/L vs 13.1 nmol/L, difference in means: −7.3 nmol/L, 95% CI −14.0 to −0.6) and a flattened diurnal slope (difference in geometric means: −72.9%, 95% CI −87.1 to −42.8). In contrast, the cortisol response to vaccination (difference in means −2.7 nmol/L, 95% CI −7.4 to 2.0) and diurnal slope at 4 months (difference in geometric means: −33.6%, 95% CI −62.0 to 16.0) did not differ significantly in infants born very preterm compared with infants born at term. Conclusions Infants born extremely preterm have blunted cortisol reactivity and a flattened diurnal slope. These patterns of HPA axis regulation are commonly seen after childhood adversity and could contribute to later metabolic and neurodevelopmental phenotypes observed in this population.
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