Evidence for low-grade systemic proinflammatory activity in patients with posttraumatic stress disorder

J Psychiatr Res. 2007 Nov;41(9):744-52. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychires.2006.06.009. Epub 2006 Aug 9.


Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may increase cardiovascular risk but the psychophysiological mechanisms involved are elusive. We hypothesized that proinflammatory activity is elevated in patients with PTSD as diagnosed by the Clinician Administered PTSD Scale (CAPS) interview. Plasma levels of proinflammatory C-reactive protein (CRP), interleukin (IL)-1beta, IL-6, and tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha, and of anti-inflammatory IL-4 and IL-10 were measured in 14 otherwise healthy PTSD patients and in 14 age- and gender-matched healthy non-PTSD controls. Levels of TNF-alpha (p=0.038; effect size Cohen's d=0.58) and of IL-1beta (p=0.075, d=0.68) were higher in patients than in controls. CRP (d=0.10), IL-6 (d=0.18), IL-4 (d=0.42), and IL-10 (d=0.37) were not significantly different between groups. Controlling for traditional cardiovascular risk factors, mood, and time since trauma revealed lower IL-4 in patients than in controls (p=0.029) and rendered group differences in TNF-alpha and IL-1beta insignificant. In all subjects, TNF-alpha correlated with total (frequency and intensity) PTSD symptom cluster of re-experiencing (r=0.49, p=0.008), avoidance (r=0.37, p=0.050), and hyperarousal (r=0.42, p=0.026), and with PTSD total symptom score (r=0.37, p=0.054). Controlling for time since trauma attenuated these associations. The correlation between IL-1beta and total avoidance symptoms (r=0.42, p=0.028) became insignificant when controlling for anxiety and depression. IL-4 correlated with total hyperarousal symptoms (r=-0.38, p=0.047), and after controlling for systolic blood pressure and smoking status, with PTSD total symptom score (r=-0.41, p=0.035). PTSD patients showed a low-grade systemic proinflammatory state, which, moreover, was related to PTSD symptom levels suggesting one mechanism by which PTSD could contribute to atherosclerotic disease.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • C-Reactive Protein / metabolism
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / etiology*
  • Inflammation / metabolism*
  • Interleukin-4 / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Psychometrics
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / complications*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / immunology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / metabolism*


  • Interleukin-4
  • C-Reactive Protein