Projects




"I've tried yoga, but I find stress less boring" -Anonymous

The mission of the Psychobiology of Stress & Health Lab is to investigate the impact of stress and stress-related disorders, namely depression and anxiety, on physical health across the lifespan. We are particularly interested in the impact of prenatal stress on child health, with a long-term focus on the early prevention of coronary artery disease (CAD).

Our general approach can be titled developmental psychoneuroimmunology (PNI). PNI seeks to unravel interactions between psychological, neural, endocrine, and immune processes and how these processes impact health. More precisely, developmental PNI studies these interactions in early life and subsequent changes to health and immunity across the lifespan.

At PSHL, we examine behavioural and biological pathways of health, with a focus on the endocrine (HPA axis) and immune (inflammatory biomarkers) processes. In order to do that, we use psychiatric, behavioural, and biomedical methods.

Our main on-going project is a multi-site prospective clinical study that investigates the impact of prenatal depressive symptoms and anxiety on inflammatory processes and birth outcomes. In other on-going and future projects, we are interested in the mental and physical health of children as well as of women and men across life transitions (pregnancy, work environment, etc.)


Check out these media profiles from the January 2017 launch of NaviCare/SoinsNavi.

NB Social Policy Research Network
CBC video
CBC Information Morning
Radio-Canada
Radio-Canada - L'heure de pointe Acadie
Global News
Sackville Tribune-Post
Mount Allison University
University of New Brunswick
Sykes
MAX 104.9 Radio
CBC News: New Brunswick at 6
Global News at 6 - New Brunswick
CBC News NB Online
Country 94 Radio
NB Health Research Foundation - News from the CEO
NB Health Council
91.9 The Bend Radio
97.3 The Wave Radio
The Telegraph-Journal

About 10-12% of Canadian women suffer from prenatal depression. Prenatal depressive symptoms are common and severe, even when they do not reach clinical levels. Since depression and anxiety often co-occur, many pregnant women suffer from new or worsening anxiety symptoms. Prenatal depression may have a detrimental impact on fetal growth. Low birth weight, which is related to increased risk of death, illness, and developmental issues, places an economic burden on our healthcare system. This project seeks to investigate: (1) whether prenatal depressive and anxiety symptoms are differentially associated with increased inflammation; and (2) whether inflammation is a plausible mechanism linking prenatal depressive and anxiety symptoms to low birth weight. Our study has several implications for prenatal health practice. Stay tuned!


Relevant Pilot Work:

Azar & Mercer, 2013

Mild depressive symptoms are associated with elevated c-reactive protein and proinflammatory cytokine levels during early to midgestation: A prospective pilot study

Azar & Singer, 2012

Maternal prenatal state anxiety symptoms and birth weight: A pilot study


The correctional officer (CO) is almost universally understood to be working in a high-stress situation. At times dangerous, at times tedious, the job exacts a toll from almost all who choose the work.

We set out to examine satisfaction in COs by analyzing a recent survey issued to all federal employees.

More info soon.


Feelings of loss resulting from miscarriage can have a significant impact on some men and women. However, in this area of research, men have not received as much attention as women. We have reviewed the literature on men’s depression following miscarriage. More to come!


Background: Adolescent pregnancy can be associated with major depression (MD) and conduct disorder (CD). Some infants of adolescent mothers are prenatally exposed to these factors, which may result in heightened risk for perturbations of their stress systems. Between 2 and 4 months, a normal shift occurs in the adrenocortical system in which we observe a marked decrease in infant cortisol response when facing mild stressors. This study aimed to explore whether MD (lifetime, during pregnancy, postpartum), CD, and maternal overcontrol are associated with increased cortisol reactivity in 4-month-old infants of teenage mothers.

Methods: Using arm restraint as a stressor, morning salivary cortisol was taken prestressor and poststressor in 212 infants during a laboratory visit. Major depression and CD were measured with the computerized National Institute of Mental Health Diagnostic Interview Schedule (NIMH-DIS), postpartum depressive mood was measured with the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale, and overcontrol was observed with the CARE-Index.

Results: Independent of the predictors, there was a dampened cortisol response. Infants of mothers with lifetime MD and of average to highly overcontrolling mothers showed increased cortisol reactivity. Conduct disorder and cortisol levels were not associated.

Conclusions: Future studies should detect whether the absence of a dampened cortisol response in infants whose mothers have lifetime MD or display overcontrolling parenting is stable over time.


Background: We examined salivary C-reactive protein (CRP) levels in the context of tobacco smoke exposure (TSE) in healthy youth. We hypothesized that there would be a dose-response relationship between TSE status andsalivary CRP levels.

Methods: This work is a pilot study (N = 45) for a larger investigation in which we aim to validate salivary CRP against serum CRP, the gold standard measurement of low-grade inflammation. Participants were healthy youth with no self-reported periodontal disease, no objectively measured obesity/adiposity, and no clinical depression, based on the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI-II). We assessed tobacco smoking and confirmed smoking status (non-smoking, passive smoking, and active smoking) with salivary cotinine measurement. We measured salivary CRP by the ELISA method. We controlled for several potential confounders.

Results: We found evidence for the existence of a dose-response relationship between the TSE status and salivary CRP levels.

Conclusions: Our preliminary findings indicate that salivary CRP seems to have a similar relation to TSE as its widely used serum (systemic inflammatory) biomarker counterpart.


Aims: Prenatal tobacco exposure (PTE) is an important public health concern for the offspring of teen mothers. We examined whether PTE is associated with baseline cortisol levels in four-month-old infants of teenage mothers.

Methods: we assessed salivary cortisol levels of 212 infants. PTE was measured by using self-reports of cigarette smoking during pregnancy. We used a propensity scores matching analysis to compare infants with PTE and those without.

Results: of 212 mothers, 151 smoked during pregnancy. However, there was no association between PTE and infant cortisol levels.

Conclusions: we could not support a relation between PTE and cortisol levels in a sample of four-month-old infants of teenage mothers.


Background: This study examined whether mild-to-moderate depressive symptoms are associated with increased high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hsCRP) and interleukin 6 (IL-6) levels in apparently healthy individuals at high risk for coronary artery disease. We investigated in individuals whether: (1) current depressive symptoms were associated with increased hsCRP and IL-6 levels; (2) persistent depressive symptoms at two time points 6 months apart were associated with hsCRP and IL-6; and (3), sex-based differences in inflammation were a function of depressive symptoms.

Methods: We measured depressive symptoms (twice), hsCRP, and IL-6 (follow-up time point) in 84 apparently healthy individuals (52% women) at high cardiac risk.

Results: Patients with persistent depressive symptoms had higher hsCRP, compared to participants without persistent symptoms (5.55 vs. 1.70 mg/l, p  <  0.05, 95% CI 0.11 to 1.09, d = 0.67). Participants with current depressive symptoms had higher hsCRP (3.99 vs. 1.70 mg/l, p = 0.059) than those without symptoms. Findings remained unchanged after controlling for covariates. Women had higher adjusted hsCRP than men (2.91 vs. 1.87 mg/l, p  <  0.001). When we entered depressive symptoms, the model remained significant, with a significant interaction between sex and symptoms: women with depressive symptoms had higher hsCRP than men with depressive symptoms and than women without symptoms (6.75 vs. 1.11 mg/l). The hypothesized differences were not observed with respect to IL-6, after controlling for body mass index (95% CI-0.77 to 0.73).

Conclusions: Before a first ischaemic coronary event, persistent mild-to-moderate depressive symptoms were associated with increased hsCRP. Women with depressive symptoms had higher hsCRP than men with symptoms.


Objective: To examine the association between cortisol levels and conduct disorder (CD) in adolescent mothers. Past research has shown that low levels of cortisol were associated with CD, particularly with its aggressive symptoms. The authors tested the hypothesis that adolescent mothers with CD would show lower levels of salivary cortisol compared to mothers without CD at 4 and 9 months postpartum.

Methods: Midmorning salivary cortisol levels were measured in 228 adolescent mothers (age at delivery 16.9 +/- 1 years [mean +/- SD]) during a laboratory visit at 4 and 9 months postpartum. CD was diagnosed during pregnancy according to the CD subsection on the criteria for antisocial personality disorder (DSM-III-R).

Results: Results did not confirm the hypothesis. Lower cortisol levels were not significantly associated with a CD diagnosis, the number of CD symptoms, or aggressive symptoms.

Conclusions: Despite valid measures and strong statistical power, this study failed to find an association between cortisol levels and CD in a sample of adolescent mothers. The results may have been influenced by the fact that participants were 4 and 9 months postpartum and by comparisons of mothers with CD to mothers living in stressful circumstances.


Pajer & Gardner Commentary:


Objective: This study identified differences in strategies used by mothers and fathers (N = 60) in coping with their child's insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus. The Ways of Coping Questionnaire (WCQ) was administered during a home interview. Results showed that both parents used planful problem solving, exercised positive reappraisal, and sought social support frequently, with mothers using more planful problem-solving strategies than fathers. Within the family, analyses showed that fathers were more likely to use distancing, independent of the child's sex, whereas mothers were more likely to frequently use all the coping strategies when the child was a girl. The implications of the results for nursing are discussed.