European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry

, Volume 17, Issue 1, pp 39-43

First online:

Slower cortisol response during ACTH stimulation test in autistic children

  • Jasna Marinović-ĆurinAffiliated withDepartment of Psychiatry, Clinical Hospital Split
  • , Ivana Marinović-TerzićAffiliated withDepartment of Physiology, School of Medicine, University of Split
  • , Zorana Bujas-PetkovićAffiliated withPsychiatric hospital for children and adolescents
  • , Ljubinka ZekanAffiliated withDepartment of Nuclear Medicine, Clinical Hospital Split
  • , Veselin ŠkrabićAffiliated withDepartment of Pediatrics, Clinical Hospital Split
  • , Zoran ĐogašAffiliated withDepartment of Physiology, School of Medicine, University of Split
  • , Janoš TerzićAffiliated withDepartment of Physiology, School of Medicine, University of Split Email author 

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Autism is a hereditary, pervasive neurodevelopmental disorder that starts early in life. The main characteristics of the autism are impairment in social interactions, difficulties in adapting to novel environmental situations and improper reaction to stress. Since the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenocortical (HPA) axis plays a key role in the response to stress and because the previous research found abnormalities in HPA system, we conducted a study to test several elements of the HPA axis. Because autism is a heritable disorder, autistic subjects were studied as well as their parents. Cortisol circadian rhythm, cortisol daily secretion and its suppression response to dexamethason had been measured from saliva or urine samples of the autistic children and their parents. Cortisol secretion response after ACTH stimulation was done with the autistic children only. The cortisol elevation after ACTH stimulation among the autistic individuals was slower (P = 0.017) than in healthy controls. No differences were found in salivary cortisol circadian rhythm or suppression response, as well as in cortisol daily excretion. These data indicate that, compared to healthy subjects, autistic individuals have fine differences in cortisol response to ACTH stimulation or possibly to other types of stress.


autism ACTH cortisol saliva