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Original Article
March 2001

Decreased Cortisol Levels in Adolescent Girls With Conduct Disorder

Author Affiliations

From the Departments of Psychiatry (Drs Pajer, Gardner, and Perel and Mr Neal) and Medicine (Dr Gardner), University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Pittsburgh, Pa; and Center for Neurosciences Research, Allegheny General Hospital, Pittsburgh (Dr Rubin).

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2001;58(3):297-302. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.58.3.297

Background  Female adolescent antisocial behavior is increasing, but little is known about the neuroendocrinologic aspects of this disorder. On the basis of reports of decreased cortisol levels in antisocial males, we investigated morning plasma cortisol levels in adolescent girls with conduct disorder (CD).

Methods  Three plasma samples for cortisol levels were taken every 20 minutes between 8 and 9 AM in 47 adolescent girls with CD (mean ± SD age, 16.5 ± 0.9 years) and 37 normal control girls (mean age, 16.0 ± 0.8 years). All blood was drawn within 72 hours after the onset of menstrual flow.

Results  Girls with CD had significantly lower cortisol levels than girls in the normal control group at all 3 sampling times. This finding was not due to procedural factors, demographic characteristics, or the use of medications. The girls with CD who had no other psychiatric problems had lower cortisol levels than girls with other disorders or those in the normal control group. In the multiple regression analysis, having CD predicted 10% of the variance in cortisol levels.

Conclusions  Morning plasma cortisol levels were significantly diminished in adolescent girls with CD. Decreased cortisol levels appear to be most strongly associated with antisocial girls who do not have other psychiatric disorders.