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Dev Psychobiol. 2015 Mar;57(2):153-67. doi: 10.1002/dev.21271. Epub 2015 Jan 21.

Salivary cytokines as a minimally-invasive measure of immune functioning in young children: correlates of individual differences and sensitivity to laboratory stress.

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Department of Population, Family and Reproductive Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD.


There is growing interest in minimally-invasive measures of environmentally-responsive biological systems in developmental science. Contributing to that endeavor, this study explores the intercorrelations, correlates, and task-sensitivity of proinflammatory salivary cytokines in childhood. Saliva was sampled from 125 healthy five-year old children (49% male) across a series of cognitive and emotional challenge laboratory tasks. Samples were assayed for cytokines (IL-1β, IL-6, IL-8, TNFα), and markers of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) and autonomic nervous system (ANS) activation (salivary cortisol and alpha-amylase [sAA]). Cytokines were positively intercorrelated and task-sensitivity varied. Except IL-8, cytokines were elevated in children with oral health issues and tobacco smoke exposure. Among boys, cytokines were positively related to sAA and negatively related to cortisol. The findings suggest that in healthy children, salivary cytokine levels reflect compartmentalized oral immune activity. Associations between ANS and HPA activity and cytokines in saliva may present opportunities for minimally-invasive methods to explore neuroendocrine-immune interactions during development.


acute stress; children; cortisol; cytokines; saliva; salivary alpha-amylase

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