Gender Differences in the Effects of Adverse Environments on Physiologic Stress

Dr. Jodi Ford, College of Nursing
Rank at time of award: Assistant Professor
The purpose of this seed grant is to augment the sample size of a NIH funded study - Linking Biological and Social Pathways to Adolescent Health and Wellbeing (Bio-Social Linkages) (Ford, 1R21DA034960) to enhance statistical power for investigations of the relationships between adolescents’ exposure to sociospatial adversity (e.g. physical/social disorder, violence, poverty) and chronic physiologic stress, and the extent to which sociospatial exposures and their impact on chronic physiologic stress vary by gender. The Bio-Social Linkages study is a representative subsample of 500 youth participating in the first wave of the Adolescent Health and Development in Context (AHDC) study (Browning, 1R01DA032371) -– a longitudinal and representative study focused on the impact of activity space exposures on the health and behavior of a diverse sample of youth aged 11-17 years in Franklin County, Ohio. The Bio-Social Linkages study is collecting chronic stress biomeasures of HPA activity (hair for cortisol) and immune function (saliva for reactivation of latent herpes virus – Epstein-Barr virus (EBV)) for linkage to the AHDC data. Saliva DNA is also being collected for cellular stress (telomere length) and stored for future assay and linkage to the AHDC data. The accrual of the 500 adolescents for the R21 study is near completion, however, power analyses suggest a sample size of at least 800 adolescents is needed to examine interactions by gender. This seed grant will enable us to continue to collect and store hair (for cortisol) and saliva (for EBV and telomeres) on an additional 300 participants for future assay to test the following specific aims.
Aim 1. Investigate the associations between urban adolescents’ exposure to sociospatial adversity (e.g. physical/social disorder, violence, poverty) and chronic stress biomeasures of (1) HPA activity (e.g. hair cortisol, 1 cm of hair growth approximates mean cortisol over prior 1 month)13; (2) immune function (e.g. EBV antibodies/DNA to measure EBV reactivation); and (3) cellular stress (telomere length).
Aim 2. Examine gender differences in level of exposure to adverse activity spaces (characterized by violence, physical/social disorder, poverty) and gender differences in the effects of these exposures on physiological stress. Specifically, we consider the hypothesis that males experience higher levels of exposure to adverse activity spaces but, conditional on level of exposure, females experience more pronounced negative effects of adverse activity spaces on stress.
This proposed study’s combination of multiple chronic stress biomarkers and AHDC’s rich activity space, social network, family and adolescent data will enable rigorous investigation of the contribution of sociospatial contexts to gender differentials in chronic physiologic stress outcomes. The augmentation of the sample size will enable us to directly address NIH reviewers’ concerns regarding statistical power to test interactions by gender with our R01 resubmission in March. Furthermore, this project is responsive to NIH’s call for increased attention in basic science research to sex and gender differences in health and will not only enable testing of this study’s and our R01 proposal aims, but serve as a repository for numerous investigations by other researchers testing gender differentials in chronic physiologic stress during adolescence.

Publications resulting from this seed grant

Browning, C.R., Calder, C.A. Boettner, B., Tarrence, J. Kori, K., Soller, B., & Ford, J.L. (Forthcoming). Neighborhoods, activity spaces, and the span of adolescent exposures. American Sociological Review. 

Browning, C.R., Tarrence, J., LaPlant, E. Boettner, B., Schmeer, K., Calder, C. Way, B.M., & Ford, J.L.# (Forthcoming) Exposure to police killings and physiological stress among urban Black male youth. Psychoneuroendocrinology.  

Ford, J.L. & Stowe, R. (2017) Depressive symptoms are associated with salivary shedding of Epstein-Barr virus in female adolescents: The role of sex differences. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 86, 128-133. [E] PMCID: PMC5905709

2017. Ford, J.L. & Stowe, R. "Depressive symptoms are associated with salivary shedding of Epstein-Barr virus in female adolescents: The role of sex differences.Psychoneuroendocrinology, 86, 128-133. [E] PMCID: PMC5905709