Salivary cortisol measurement has proved useful for the non-invasive study of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical axis, and salivary alpha-amylase has been suggested as a comparable marker for the sympathetic system. Despite some studies showing an increase in salivary alpha-amylase after challenges that stimulate the sympathetic nervous system, questions remain about interpretation. The aims of this study were to explore the stability of salivary alpha-amylase, its diurnal profile, response to the cold hand test, and correlation with cortisol. Salivary alpha-amylase was stable following 5 days at room temperature, and five freeze-thaw cycles. Its diurnal profile was opposite to that of cortisol. There was no salivary alpha-amylase response to the cold hand stress test, in the morning (11am) or afternoon (3pm), unlike cortisol which showed a response in the afternoon in the same samples. There was no correlation between salivary alpha-amylase and cortisol at any time. In conclusion, salivary alpha-amylase is stable to a range of conditions. Its diurnal pattern is compatible with sympathetic stimulation. Lack of response to the cold hand test suggests that secretion of salivary alpha-amylase is controlled by mechanisms more complex than sympathetic regulation alone.
O'Donnell K, Kammerer M, O'Reilly R, Taylor A, Glover V.
Imperial College London, Institute of Reproductive and Developmental Biology, London, UK