Social stability influences the association between adrenal responsiveness and hair cortisol concentrations in rhesus macaques

J. J. Vandeleest, J. P. Capitanio, A. Hamel, J. Meyer, M. Novak, S. P. Mendoza, Brenda Mccowan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Hair cortisol concentrations are increasingly being used in both humans and nonhuman animals as a biomarker of chronic stress. However, many details regarding how hair cortisol concentrations relate to the dynamic activity and regulation of the HPA axis are still unknown. The current study explores 1) how the regulation of the HPA axis in infancy relates to hair cortisol concentrations (HCC) in infancy 2) whether this relationship persists into adulthood under conditions of social stability, and 3) how social instability impacts these relationships. All subjects were rhesus monkeys housed in large social groups at the California National Primate Research Center, and all had participated in a 25-hr. long BioBehavioral Assessment (BBA) at 3–4 months of age when four plasma samples were taken to assess HPA regulation, in particular cortisol responses to 1) 2-hour social separation and relocation, 2) sustained challenge, 3) dexamethasone and 4) ACTH administration. In Study 1, hair samples were collected at the end of the BBA testing from 25 infant rhesus monkeys from 2 different stable social groups. In Study 2, hair samples were obtained at three timepoints from 108 adults from 3 different stable social groups (1 in the Spring/Summer and 2 in the Fall/Winter) to examine the temporal stability of the relationship between HCC and HPA axis regulation. In Study 3, subjects included 31 infants and 33 adults from a single social group experiencing social instability following the same procedures as in Studies 1 and 2. Generalized linear models were used to determine if infants’ HPA axis activity and regulation predicted HCC in infancy (Study 1), in adulthood with animals living in stable social conditions (Study 2) or in animals living in an unstable social group (Study 3). Results indicated that for both infants and adults living in stable social groups, HCC are associated with the adrenal response to ACTH in infancy. Samples collected in the winter also had higher HCC than those collected in summer. In the unstable social group, adult hair cortisol levels were higher than in the stable social groups. Additionally, there were no consistent relationships between HCC and infant HPA axis regulation among adults or infants living in a group experiencing social instability. These results suggest that the aspects of the HPA axis that drive HCC may differ depending on context. Under stable, non-stressed conditions there seems to be a trait-like association between adrenal responsivity and HCC in infancy and adulthood. However, this association may be reduced or eliminated under conditions of social stress.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)164-171
Number of pages8
StatePublished - Feb 1 2019


  • Adrenal responsivity
  • Hair cortisol
  • Plasma cortisol
  • Social stability
  • Social stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


Dive into the research topics of 'Social stability influences the association between adrenal responsiveness and hair cortisol concentrations in rhesus macaques'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this