Design, rationale and feasibility of a multidimensional experimental protocol to study early life stress

M. Dillwyn Bartholomeusz, Philip S. Bolton, Robin Callister, Virginia Skinner, Deborah Hodgson

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    Abstract

    There is a rapidly accumulating body of evidence regarding the influential role of early life stress (ELS) upon medical and psychiatric conditions. While self-report instruments, with their intrinsic limitations of recall, remain the primary means of detecting ELS in humans, biological measures are generally limited to a single biological system. This paper describes the design, rationale and feasibility of a study to simultaneously measure neuroendocrine, immune and autonomic nervous system (ANS) responses to psychological and physiological stressors in relation to ELS. Five healthy university students were recruited by advertisement. Exclusion criteria included chronic medical conditions, psychotic disorders, needle phobia, inability to tolerate pain, and those using anti-inflammatory medications. They were clinically interviewed and physiological recordings made over a two-hour period pre, during and post two acute stressors: the cold pressor test and recalling a distressing memory. The Childhood Trauma Questionnaire and the Parental Bonding Index were utilised to measure ELS. Other psychological measures of mood and personality were also administered. Measurements of heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory rate, skin conductance, skin blood flow and temporal plasma samples were successfully obtained before, during and after acute stress. Participants reported the extensive psychological and multisystem physiological data collection and stress provocations were tolerable. Most (4/5) participants indicated a willingness to return to repeat the protocol, indicating acceptability. Our protocol is viable and safe in young physically healthy adults and allows us to assess simultaneously neuroendocrine, immune and autonomic nervous system responses to stressors in persons assessed for ELS.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)33-43
    Number of pages11
    JournalContemporary Clinical Trials Communications
    Volume7
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2017

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