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J Psychiatr Res. 2013 May;47(5):604-10. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychires.2013.01.008. Epub 2013 Feb 14.

Association of elevated cytokines with childhood adversity in a sample of healthy adults.

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Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences, Clinical Neuroscience Division, Medical University of South Carolina, 125 Doughty Street, Charleston, SC 29425, USA.



Childhood trauma has been associated adult stress-related disorders. However, little is known about physiologic alterations in adults with a history of early life trauma that do not have current psychiatric or medical diagnoses. In this study, the relationships between childhood adversity and cytokine and C-reactive protein (CRP) levels in healthy adults were examined.


Participants included men (n = 18) and women (n = 20) who did not meet DSM-IV criteria for Axis I psychiatric disorders or any major medical illness. Cytokine and CRP levels were obtained from baseline blood samples. Subjects completed the Early Trauma Inventory Self Report (ETI-SR). The primary outcomes included serum interleukin-6 (IL-6), tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α), interleukin-1β (IL1-β), and CRP levels. In addition, the mean numbers of traumatic experiences (sexual, physical, emotional, general, and the summed total) were measured.


Significant positive associations were found between the total ETI score and IL-6 (p = 0.05), IL1-β (p < 0.05), and TNF-α (p = 0.01). Significant positive correlations were found between the number of general traumas and IL1-β (p < 0.05), TNF-α (p < 0.05), and IL-6 (p < 0.01). Neither the total number of traumas nor any of the trauma subscales were significantly associated with CRP levels.


The positive association between childhood trauma and basal cytokine levels supports the extant literature demonstrating the long-term impact of childhood trauma and stress on homeostatic systems. Importantly, this association was found in healthy adults, suggesting that these alterations may precede the development of significant stress-related psychiatric disorder or disease.

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