Psychological stress may induce diabetes-related autoimmunity in infancy

Diabetes Care. 2005 Feb;28(2):290-5. doi: 10.2337/diacare.28.2.290.


Objective: In retrospective studies, a number of disparate environmental factors (including experiences of serious life events) have been proposed as trigger mechanisms for type 1 diabetes or the autoimmune process behind the disease. Psychosocial stress in families may affect children negatively due to a link to hormonal levels and nervous signals that in turn influence both insulin sensitivity/insulin need and the immune system. Our aim was to investigate whether psychological stress, measured as psychosocial strain in families, is associated with diabetes-related autoimmunity during infancy.

Research design and methods: The first 4,400 consecutive 1-year-old children from a large prospective population-based project participated in the study. Parents completed questionnaires at birth and at 1 year, including various measures of psychosocial stress (e.g., parenting stress) and sociodemographic background. Blood samples drawn from the children at 1 year were analyzed for type 1 diabetes-associated autoantibodies toward tyrosine phosphatase and GAD. Antibodies toward tetanus toxoid were used as non-diabetes-related control antibodies.

Results: Psychosocial factors, i.e., high parenting stress (odds ratio 1.8 [95% CI 1.2-2.9], P < 0.01), experiences of a serious life event (2.3 [1.3-4.0], P < 0.01), foreign origin of the mother (2.1 [1.3-3.3], P < 0.001), and low paternal education (1.6 [1.1-2.3], P < 0.01) were associated with diabetes-related autoimmunity in the child, independent of family history of diabetes.

Conclusions: Psychological stress, measured as psychosocial strain in the family, seems to be involved in the induction, or progression, of diabetes-related autoimmunity in the child during the 1st year of life.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Autoantibodies / blood
  • Autoimmunity / physiology
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1* / epidemiology
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1* / immunology
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1* / psychology
  • Family Health*
  • Female
  • Glutamate Decarboxylase / immunology
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Islets of Langerhans / immunology
  • Male
  • Parenting / psychology
  • Prospective Studies
  • Protein Tyrosine Phosphatase, Non-Receptor Type 1
  • Protein Tyrosine Phosphatases / immunology
  • Risk Factors
  • Stress, Psychological / epidemiology*
  • Stress, Psychological / immunology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires


  • Autoantibodies
  • Protein Tyrosine Phosphatase, Non-Receptor Type 1
  • Protein Tyrosine Phosphatases
  • Glutamate Decarboxylase