Physiological and behavioral aspects of stress in adolescence.

E. J. Susman, E. D. Nottelmann, L. D. Dorn, G. Inoff-Germain, G. P. Chrousos

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Gonadal and adrenal hormone levels appear to be linked to the stressors experienced by young adolescents. Adjustment problems were accompanied by a profile of lower gonadal steroids and higher adrenal androgen levels, primarily androstenedione. Later gonadal maturation may be a result of stress suppressing the reproductive axis. Higher levels of androstenedione may be indicative of chronic levels of stress. However, the findings for androstenedione are complicated by the fact that androstenedione was related to cortisol only in males. Furthermore, androstenedione as a weak androgenic has low potential for affecting behavior, directly. Cortisol levels were related to the frequency of distress behavior in a challenging situation. The relations disappeared with experience in the setting. These findings are consistent with prior animal and human studies. However, while distress behavior in a challenging situation decreased over the one-year period, cortisol levels did not. Sustained physiological arousal in a challenging situation may have long-term implications for the mental health of adolescents. A question for further exploration is whether individual differences in reactivity in one challenging situation, like the clinic visit, is predictive of reactivity in other settings. Adolescence appears to be an ideal period of development in which to examine the interactions between environmental and physiological causes and sequelae of stress. It is characterized by measurable changes in hormonal status and physical maturation and behavior. Studying the intricate interactions between these two sets of changes has only just begun. A larger question yet to be examined is whether interaction between hormones and behavior are unique to adolescence or whether they are indicative of hormone-behavior processes characteristic of the entire life-span. Adjustment and social stressors, adrenal activation, and reproductive maturation may constitute a "vicious" cycle of interrelated factors during adolescence. Adjustment problems could cause activation of the adrenal glands which would cause gonadal suppression and later maturation. The latter could constitute an added stressor reentering the cycle and potentiating the "abnormality". In our population of normal adolescents, this cycle is obviously active within a normal range. In these adolescents stress arising from either endogenous or exogenous sources was not a debilitating force. Rather, they fell within a normal range with various degrees of adjustment, adrenal activation and gonadal maturation.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)341-352
Number of pages12
JournalAdvances in experimental medicine and biology
StatePublished - 1988

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)


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