Little is known regarding neuroendocrine responses in adolescent girls with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) who have experienced sexual abuse. Therefore, we collected saliva samples three times daily for 3 days to assess concentrations of salivary alpha amylase (sAA) – a surrogate marker for autonomic nervous system (ANS) activity and, in particular, sympathetic activity – in sexually abused adolescent girls.
Twenty-four girls (mean age: 15±1.4 years) who had experienced recent sexual abuse (i.e., sexual abuse occurred 1-6 months prior to study enrollment) and 12 healthy comparison subjects (mean age: 14.8±1.3 years) completed a structured interview and assessments to ascertain symptoms of posttraumatic stress, then collected saliva at home upon awakening, 30 minutes after waking, and at 5 p.m. on three consecutive school days.
For sexually abused girls, total PTSD symptoms were associated with higher overall morning levels of sAA (r=0.51, p=0.02), a finding driven by intrusive symptoms (r=0.43, p<0.05) and hyperarousal symptoms (r=0.58, p=0.01). There were no significant differences in diurnal sAA secretion between the sexually abused girls and healthy comparison adolescents. CONCLUSIONS: Overall morning concentrations of sAA in sexually abused girls are associated with overall PTSD severity as well as symptoms of hyperarousal and intrusive symptoms, possibly reflecting symptom-linked increases in ANS tone. These data raise the possibility that alterations in ANS activity are related to the pathophysiology of sexual abuse-related PTSD in adolescent girls, and may inform therapeutic interventions (e.g., antiadrenergic medications). View on Pubmed