Results from a pilot study, published in Psychiatric Quarterly, suggests a correlation between certain hormones found in salivary concentrations as markers for aggression.
The Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center research, led by Drew Barzman, MD – a child and adolescent forensic psychiatrist – collected three sets of saliva samples from 17 boys.
Participants were male patients between the ages of 7 and 9, admitted to the hospital for psychiatric care to identify which children were most likely to show aggression and violence. Samples were taken shortly after admission.
The saliva was screened for the presence and levels of three primary hormones: testosterone, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), and cortisol.
Barzman’s team – which included Douglas Mossman, MD, a psychiatrist at the University of Cincinnati (UC); Michael Sorter, MD, Director, Division of Psychiatry at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital; David Klein, PhD, MD, an endocrinologist at the hospital; Thomas Geracioti , MD, an expert in the endocrinology of mental disorders based at the Veterans Administration Medical Center, and Kacey Appel, a PhD candidate in epidemiology at UC – focused on a real-time assessment of violence in children and adolescent patients. They theorized the test could allow for better monitoring of treatment in patients.
The researchers goal was to find a quick and accurate test that could both predict aggression in children in psychiatric units as well as eventually serve in other applications such as in the educational system in an effort to make the environments safer by predicting possible threats. Health care professionals who work in psychiatric units are far more likely to be assaulted on the job in comparison to other medical staff.
For the purposes of this study, the saliva test was used in combination with other aggressive behavior tools, including the Brief Rating of Aggression by Children and Adolescents (BRACHA) questionnaire, an assessment tool also developed by Barzman’s team to predict aggression and violence in the hospital.
Testosterone plays a role in several key biological aspects including promoting aggression, as this hormone naturally motivates reproduction and social orders of dominance. DHEA is an endogenous steroidal hormone produced in the adrenal gland, gonads, and brain. It functions predominantly as a metabolic intermediate in the biosynthesis of the androgen and estrogen sex steroids.
Cortisol is another steroidal hormone that responds to stress and is produced in the human body by the adrenal gland, triggered by the zona fasciculate of the adrenal cortex. It is released in response to stress and a low level of blood glucocorticoids. Its primary functions is to increase blood sugar, suppress the immune system, and aid in fat, protein, and carbohydrate metabolism.
[Image via Wikicommons]