Association between plasma IL-6 response to acute stress and early-life adversity in healthy adults

Neuropsychopharmacology. 2010 Dec;35(13):2617-23. doi: 10.1038/npp.2010.159. Epub 2010 Sep 29.


Increased production of peripheral cytokines and other pro-inflammatory markers has been linked to psychiatric disorders such as major depressive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. Recent research has pointed to early-life stress, particularly childhood maltreatment, as an independent and preventable risk factor for systemic inflammation in adulthood. Some data suggest that adults with a history of childhood maltreatment exhibit a heightened inflammatory response to acute stress challenge. To further elucidate the relationship between childhood maltreatment and pro-inflammatory cytokine production, we examined plasma IL-6 response to the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) in 69 healthy adult subjects without depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. Serial plasma IL-6 concentrations were measured during a standardized psychosocial stressor in n=19 subjects with moderate-severe childhood maltreatment (MAL), and n=50 controls without maltreatment (CTL), as indicated by self-ratings on the childhood trauma questionnaire (CTQ). CTQ total scores were positively correlated with overall change in IL-6 response, as well as the maximum IL-6 concentration during the TSST. Greater acute IL-6 release and higher IL-6 concentrations over time were observed for the MAL group relative to the CTL group. Inflammation may be an important developmental mediator linking adverse experiences in early life to poor adult physical and mental health. The results of this preliminary study warrant further investigation in a larger sample.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Adult Survivors of Child Abuse / psychology*
  • Anxiety / blood
  • Depression / blood
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interleukin-6 / blood*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Self Report
  • Stress, Psychological / blood*


  • IL6 protein, human
  • Interleukin-6