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Brain Behav Immun. 2012 Nov;26(8):1280-7. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2012.08.006. Epub 2012 Aug 25.

Epstein-Barr virus reactivation during pregnancy and postpartum: effects of race and racial discrimination.

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Department of Psychiatry, The Ohio State University Medical Center, Columbus, OH, USA.



Adverse pregnancy outcomes, including preterm birth, are markedly higher among African-Americans versus Whites. Stress-induced immune dysregulation may contribute to these effects. Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) reactivation provides a robust model for examining cellular immune competence. This study examined associations of EBV virus capsid antigen immunoglobulin G (VCA IgG) with gestational stage, race, and racial discrimination in women during pregnancy and postpartum.


Fifty-six women (38 African-American, 18 White) were included. African-Americans and Whites did not differ in age, education, income, parity, or body mass index (ps ≥ .51). During the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd trimester and ~5 weeks postpartum, women completed measures of racial discrimination, perceived stress, anxiety, depressive symptoms and health behaviors. EBV VCA IgG antibody titers were measured via ELISA in serum collected at each visit.


In the overall sample, EBV VCA IgG antibody titers were lower in the 3rd versus 1st trimester (p=.002). At every timepoint (1st, 2nd, 3rd trimester and postpartum), African-American women exhibited higher serum EBV VCA IgG antibody titers than Whites (ps<.001). This effect was most pronounced among African-Americans reporting greater racial discrimination [p=.03 (1st), .04 (2nd), .12 (3rd), .06 (postpartum)]. Associations of race and racial discrimination with EBV VCA IgG antibody titers were not accounted for by other measures of stress or health behaviors.


Compared to Whites, African-American women showed higher EBV VCA IgG antibody titers, indicative of impaired cellular immune competence, across pregnancy and postpartum. This effect was particularly pronounced among African-American women reporting greater racial discrimination, supporting a role for chronic stress in this association. In women overall, EBV antibody titers declined during late as compared to early pregnancy. This may be due to pregnancy-related changes in cell-mediated immune function, humoral immune function, and/or antibody transfer to the fetus in late gestation. As a possible marker of stress-induced immune dysregulation during pregnancy, the role of EBV reactivation in racial disparities in perinatal health warrants further attention.

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