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Elevated Salivary Alpha Amylase in Adolescent Sexual Abuse Survivors with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms



Little is known regarding neuroendocrine responses in adolescent girls with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) who have experienced sexual abuse. Therefore, we collected saliva samples three times daily for 3 days to assess concentrations of salivary alpha amylase (sAA) - a surrogate marker for autonomic nervous system (ANS) activity and, in particular, sympathetic activity - in sexually abused adolescent girls.


Twenty-four girls (mean age: 15±1.4 years) who had experienced recent sexual abuse (i.e., sexual abuse occurred 1-6 months prior to study enrollment) and 12 healthy comparison subjects (mean age: 14.8±1.3 years) completed a structured interview and assessments to ascertain symptoms of posttraumatic stress, then collected saliva at home upon awakening, 30 minutes after waking, and at 5 p.m. on three consecutive school days.


For sexually abused girls, total PTSD symptoms were associated with higher overall morning levels of sAA (r[20]=0.51, p=0.02), a finding driven by intrusive symptoms (r[20]=0.43, p<0.05) and hyperarousal symptoms (r[20]=0.58, p=0.01). There were no significant differences in diurnal sAA secretion between the sexually abused girls and healthy comparison adolescents.


Overall morning concentrations of sAA in sexually abused girls are associated with overall PTSD severity as well as symptoms of hyperarousal and intrusive symptoms, possibly reflecting symptom-linked increases in ANS tone. These data raise the possibility that alterations in ANS activity are related to the pathophysiology of sexual abuse-related PTSD in adolescent girls, and may inform therapeutic interventions (e.g., antiadrenergic medications).

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