Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 22, Issue 3, pp 433–447 | Cite as

Urinary cortisol circadian rhythm in a group of high-functioning children with autism

  • Amanda L. Richdale
  • Margot R. Prior


Previous research has suggested that there may be dysfunction in the control of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis in autistic children. Both an abnormal cortisol circadian rhythm and failure to suppress cortisol secretion in response to dexamethasome have been reported. This study investigated the basal urinary cortisol circadian rhythm in a group of high-functioning children with autism and matched controls. No evidence was found for abnormal temporal placement of the circadian rhythm in the autistic group. There was a tendency towards cortisol hypersecretion during the day, predominantly in those autistic children who were integrated into the normal school system. While the temporal parameters of the cortisol circadian rhythm in these children with autism were probably normal, the tendency towards cortisol hypersecretion may indicate an environmental stress response in this group.


Cortisol Stress Response Environmental Stress Circadian Rhythm Matched Control 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Aihara, R., & Hashimoto, T. (1989). Neuroendocrinological studies on autism [In Japanese].No To Hattatsu, 21, 154–162.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Aschoff, J., Fatranska, M., Giedke, H., Doerr, P., Stamm, D., & Wisser, H. (1971). Human circadian rhythms in continuous darkness: Entrainment by social cues.Science, 171, 213–215.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Bertrand, P. V., Rudd, B. T., Weller, P. H., & Day, A. J. (1987). Free cortisol and creatinine in urine of healthy children.Clinical Chemistry, 33, 2047–2051.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Breslau, N. (1990). Does brain dysfunction increase children's vulnerability to environmental stress?Archives of General Psychiatry, 47, 15–20.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Fein, D., Pennington, B., & Waterhouse, L. (1987). Implications of social deficits in autism for neurological dysfunction. In E. Schopler & G. B. Mesibov (Eds.),Neurobiological issues in autism (pp. 127–144). New York: Plenum Press.Google Scholar
  6. Fibiger, W., Singer, G., Armstrong, S., & Datar, M. (1984). Cortisol and Catecholamine changes as functions of time-of-day and self-reported mood.Neuroscience and Biobehavioural Reviews, 8, 523–530.Google Scholar
  7. Halbreich, U., Zumoff, B., Kream, J., & Fukushima, D. K. (1982). The mean 1300–1600h plasma cortisol concentration as a diagnostic test for hypercortisolism.Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 54, 1262–1264.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Hill, S. D., Wagner, E. A., Shedlarski, J. G., Jr., & Sears, S. P. (1977). Diurnal cortisol and temperature variation of normal and autistic children.Developmental Psychobiology, 10, 579–583.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Hoshino, Y., Ohno, Y., Yamamoto, T., Murata, S., Yokoyama, F., Kaneko, M., & Kamashiro, H. (1984). Dexamethasone suppression test in autistic children.Folia Psychiatrica et Neurologica Japonica, 38, 445–449.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Hoshino, Y., Yokoyama, F., Watanabe, Murata, S., Kaneto, M., & Kumashiro, H. (1987). The diurnal variation and response to dexamethasone suppression test of saliva cortisol level in autistic children.Japanese Journal of Psychiatry & Neurology, 41, 228–235.Google Scholar
  11. Inamura, K. (1984). Sleep-wake patterns in autistic children [In Japanese].Japan Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 25, 205–217.Google Scholar
  12. Jensen, J. B., Realmuto, G. M., & Garfinkel, B. D. (1985). The dexamethasone suppression test in infantile autism.Journal of the American Academy of Child Psychiatry, 24, 263–265.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Maher, K. R., Harper, J. F., Macleay, A., & King, M. G. (1975). Peculiarities in the endocrine response to insulin stress in early infantile autism.Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 161, 180–184.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Minors, D. S., & Waterhouse, J. M. (1988). Mathematical and statistical analysis of circadian rhythms.Psychoneuroendocrinology, 13, 443–464.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Moore, A., Aitken, R., Burke, C., Gaskell, S., Groom, G., Holder, G., Selby, C., & Wood, P. (1985). Cortisol assays: guidelines for the provision of a clinical biochemistry service.Annals of Clinical Biochemistry, 22, 435–454.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Moore-Ede, M., Czeisler, C., & Richardson, G. (1983). Circadian time-keeping in health and disease.New England Journal of Medicine, 309, 469–476.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Moore-Ede, M. C., Sulzman, F. M., & Fuller, C. A. (1982).The clocks that time Us. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  18. Onishi, S., Miyazawa, G., Nishimura, Y., Sugiyama, S., Yamakawa, T., Inagaki, H., Katoh, T., Itoh, S. & Isobe, K. (1983). Post-natal development of circadian rhythm in serum cortisol levels in children.Pediatrics, 72, 399–404.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Prior, M. R., (1987). Biological and neurophysiological approaches to childhood autism.British Journal of Psychiatry, 150, 8–17.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Reinberg, A., Touitou, Y., Restoin, A., Migraine, C., Levi, F. & Montagner, H. (1985). The genetic background of circadian and ultradian rhythm patterns of 17-hydroxycorticosteroids: A cross-twin study.Journal of Endocrinology, 105, 247–253.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Reinis, S., & Goldman, J. M. (1980).The development of the brain. Biological and functional perspectives. Springfield, IL: Charles C Thomas.Google Scholar
  22. Riad-Fahmy, D., Read, G. F., Walker, R. F., & Griffiths, K. (1982). Steroids in saliva for assessing endocrine function.Endocrine Reviews, 3, 367–395.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Sandman, C. A., Barron, J. L., & Parker, L. (1985). Disregulation of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis in the mentally retarded.Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behaviour, 23, 21–26.Google Scholar
  24. Sapolsky, R. M. (1989). Hypercortisolism among socially subordinate wild baboons originates at the CNS level.Archives of General Psychiatry, 46, 1047–1051.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Segawa, M. (1985). Circadian rhythm in early infantile autism [In Japanese].Shinkei Kenkyu No Shinpo, 29, 140–153.Google Scholar
  26. Touitou, Y., Sulon, J., Bogdan, A., Reinberg, A., Sodoyez, J. C., & Demey-Ponsart, E. (1983). Adrenocortical hormones, aging and mental condition: Seasonal and circadian rhythms of plasma 18-hydroxy-11-deoxycorticosterone, total and free cortisol and urinary corticosteroids.Journal of Endocrinology, 96, 53–64.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. Yamazaki, K., Saito, Y., Okada, F., Fujieda, T., & Yamashita, I. (1975). An application of neuroendocrinological studies in autistic children and Heller's syndrome.Journal of Autism and Childhood Schizophrenia, 5, 323–332.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. Yamazaki, K., Saito, Y., Shitara, M. Togashi, H., & Yamashita, K. (1971). Neuroendocrinological study on autistic children.Japan Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 12, 275–286.Google Scholar
  29. Yuwiler, A., Ritvo, E. R., Bald, D., Kipper, D. & Koper, A. (1971). Examination of circadian rhythmicity of blood serotonin and platelets in autistic and non-autistic children.Journal of Autism and Childhood Schizophrenia, 1, 421–435.PubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • Amanda L. Richdale
    • 1
  • Margot R. Prior
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyLa Trobe UniversityBundooraAustralia

Personalised recommendations