Infant HPA axis as a potential mechanism linking maternal mental health and infant telomere length

Benjamin W. Nelson, Nicholas B. Allen, Heidemarie Laurent

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Maternal depression has been suggested to be an independent risk factor for both dysregulated hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA) functioning and shorter telomere length in offspring. In contrast, research suggests that individual differences in mindfulness may act as a protective factor against one's own telomere degradation. Currently, research has yet to investigate the association between longitudinal changes in maternal mental health (depressive symptoms and mindfulness) and salivary infant telomere length, and whether such changes might be mediated by alterations in infant cortisol response. In 48 mother-infant dyads, we investigated whether the changes in maternal mental health, when infants were 6–12 months of age, predicted change in infant cortisol reactivity and recovery over this period. We also investigated whether these changes in infant HPA functioning predicted subsequent infant salivary telomere length at 18 months of age. Furthermore, we investigated whether change in infant HPA functioning provided a potential pathway between changes in maternal mental health factors and infant salivary telomere length. Analyses revealed that increases in maternal depressive symptoms over that six-month period indirectly related to subsequent shorter infant telomere length through increased infant cortisol reactivity. Implications for the ways in which maternal mental health can impact offspring stress mechanisms related to aging and disease trajectories are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)38-46
Number of pages9
StatePublished - Feb 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Endocrinology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry


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