Development of pituitary-adrenal endocrine function in the marmoset monkey: Infant hypercortisolism is the norm

Christopher R. Pryce*, Rupert Palme, Joram Feldon

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Early life stress, involving activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) system, is associated with altered functioning of stress-related systems in adulthood. In the rat, postnatal development is characterized by low basal HPA activity and stress hyporesponsiveness, and infant exposure to atypical glucocorticoid levels leads to chronic alteration of HPA function and HPA-dependent peripheral and central processes. There have been few studies of primate HPA ontogeny, and here we report a study of changes in pituitary-adrenal function between birth and adulthood in the common marmoset monkey. In this simian primate, basal plasma ACTH and cortisol levels were actually elevated in neonates (ACTH, 141 ± 28 pg/ml; cortisol, 1903 ± 326 μg/dl) and wk 4 infants (ACTH, 114 ± 9 pg/ml; cortisol, 290 ± 8 μg/dl) relative to month 2 infants, juveniles (month 6), subadults (month 12), and adults (>2 yr; ACTH, 37 ± 4 to 61 ± 8 pg/ml; cortisol, 101 ± 2 to 195 ± 4 μg/dl). In contrast to older life stages, neonates lacked circadian change in their plasma cortisol levels, and this state of consistently high cortisol was associated with large adrenal glands in addition to high ACTH levels. Cerebrospinal fluid cortisol levels were, in accord with plasma levels, higher in wk 4 infants than in juveniles and subadults. In terms of stress response, month 2 infants demonstrated ACTH and cortisol peak stress responses similar to those at older life stages (infant stress cortisol, 185 ± 36% of basal; subadult stress cortisol, 174 ± 6% of basal); whereas infant ACTH recovery was also similar to that in older subjects, their cortisol poststress recovery was retarded. This primate, it is proposed, provides an excellent complementary model in which to test hypotheses derived from the rat model relating to HPA system ontogeny and the chronic effects and biomedical implications of hypercorticoidism during early life.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)691-699
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2002
Externally publishedYes


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