|Vol. 7, No. 2, 2001 Page 2&3|
Last year, Keith McBurnett et al. reported that in boys, low salivary levels of the hormone cortisol are associated with early-onset and persistent aggression (see related article, Crime Times, 2000, Vol. 6, No. 2, Page 4). A new study reports similar findings, this time for girls with conduct disorder (CD).
Kathleen Pajer and colleagues studied 47 adolescent girls with conduct disorder and 37 control girls, taking three separate measurements of morning plasma cortisol. "Girls with conduct disorder," they say, "had significantly lower cortisol levels than girls in the normal control group at all three sampling times," even when the researchers controlled for age, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and use of oral contraceptives. The difference between CD girls and controls was substantial, the authors say, and suggests that antisocial girls, like their male counterparts, may suffer from dysregulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, which regulates cortisol levels.
The researchers say the low cortisol levels in girls with CD cannot be attributed to other coexisting diagnoses, because antisocial girls with no other psychiatric disorders had the lowest cortisol levels. Thus, they say, low cortisol may be a diagnostic marker for a subtype of girls with conduct disorder.
Pajer et al. note that research into the causes of female conduct disorder is crucial, because nearly 10 percent of girls between the ages of 15 and 17 meet the criteria for CD. Girls diagnosed as antisocial, they note, "become women with rates of criminal behavior up to 40 times greater than other women, a high risk of early mortality, complex psychiatric problems, a high rate of substance abuse, poor adult physical health, and intergenerational transmission of antisocial behavior."
"Decreased cortisol levels in adolescent girls with conduct disorder," Kathleen Pajer, William Gardner, Robert T. Rubin, James Perel, and Stephen Neal, Archives of General Psychiatry, Vol. 58, No. 3, March 2001, pp. 297-302. Address: Kathleen Pajer, Department of Psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, 3811 O'Hara St., Suite 430, Pittsburgh, PA 15213.