Development and Psychopathology

Regular Articles

Executive functioning, cortisol reactivity, and symptoms of psychopathology in girls with premature adrenarche

Lisa M. Sontag-Padillaa1 c1, Lorah D. Dorna2a3, Abbigail Tissota2a3, Elizabeth J. Susmana4, Sue R. Beersa5 and Susan R. Rosea2a3

a1 RAND Corporation

a2 Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center

a3 University of Cincinnati College of Medicine

a4 Pennsylvania State University

a5 University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine


The study examined the interaction between early maturational timing (measured by premature adrenarche [PA]) and executive functioning and cortisol reactivity on symptoms of psychopathology. The study included 76 girls aged 6 through 8 years (mean = 7.50, SD = 0.85) with PA (n = 40) and on-time adrenarche (n = 36). Girls completed a battery of psychological and neuropsychological tests and blood sampling for cortisol. Parents completed the Child Behavior Checklist. The results demonstrated that girls with PA with lower levels of executive functioning had higher externalizing and anxious symptoms compared to other girls. In addition, girls with PA who demonstrated increases in serum cortisol had higher externalizing symptoms than those with stable patterns. Finally, girls with PA who demonstrated decreases in cortisol reported higher depressive symptoms. The findings from this study provide important information concerning the impact of cognitive functioning and stress reactivity on adjustment to early maturation in girls with PA. The results of this research may inform screening and intervention efforts for girls who may be at greatest risk for emotional and behavioral problems as a result of early maturation.

(Online publication January 31 2012)


c1 Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Lisa M. Sontag-Padilla, Rand Corporation, 4570 Fifth Avenue, Suite 600, Pittsburgh, PA 15213-2665; E-mail:


This study was partially supported by NIMH Grant R01 MH59892 (to L.D.D.); by USPHS General Clinical Research Center Grant M01 RR 08084 from the National Center for Research Resources, NIH, to Cincinnati Children's Hospital Research Foundation; and Grant M01 RR00084 to Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh General Clinical Research Center. This project was also supported by funds from the Bureau of Health Professions (BHPR), Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) through National Research Service Award Training Grant T32HP10027-12 (Kristen Copeland, Principal Investigator). The information or content and conclusions are those of the authors and should not be construed as the official position or policy of nor should any endorsements be inferred by the BHPR, HRSA, DHHS, or the US government.