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To investigate at what age preterm infants develop a salivary cortisol circadian rhythm and identify whether it is dependent on gestational age and/or postnatal age. To evaluate whether salivary cortisol circadian rhythm development is related to behavioral regularity. To elucidate salivary cortisol levels in preterm infants during the first year of life. This prospective, longitudinal study included 51 preterm infants. 130 healthy full-term infants served as controls. Monthly salivary cortisol levels were obtained in the morning (07:30-09:30), at noon (10:00-12:00), and in the evening (19:30-21:30), beginning at gestational age week 28-32 and continuing until twelve months corrected age. Behavioral regularity was studied using the Baby Behavior Questionnaire. A salivary cortisol circadian rhythm was established by one month corrected age and persisted throughout the first year. The preterm infants showed a cortisol pattern increasingly more alike the full-term infants as the first year progressed. The preterm infants increase in behavioral regularity with age but no correlation was found between the development of salivary cortisol circadian rhythm and the development of behavior regularity. The time to establish salivary cortisol circadian rhythm differed between preterm and full-term infants according to postnatal age (p = 0.001) and was dependent on gestational age. Monthly salivary cortisol levels for preterm infants from birth until twelve months are presented. Additional findings were that topical corticosteroid medication was associated with higher concentrations of salivary cortisol (p = 0.02) and establishment of salivary cortisol circadian rhythm occurred later in infants treated with topical corticosteroid medication (p = 0.02). Salivary cortisol circadian rhythm is established by one month corrected age in preterm infants. Establishment of salivary cortisol circadian rhythm is related to gestational age rather than to postnatal age. Salivary cortisol circadian rhythm development is not related to behavioral regularity.


Katrin Ivars, Nina Nelson, Annette Theodorsson, Elvar Theodorsson, Jakob O Ström, Evalotte Mörelius. Development of salivary cortisol circadian rhythm in preterm infants. PloS one. 2017;12(8):e0182685

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PMID: 28797126

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