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

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


Objective: 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.

Method: 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.

Results: 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.

Conclusions: 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.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • C-Reactive Protein / metabolism
  • Child
  • Child Abuse / psychology
  • Cytokines / blood*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / blood*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / physiopathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events*
  • Linear Models
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Physical Examination
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / blood*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / physiopathology
  • Stress, Psychological / blood*
  • Young Adult


  • Cytokines
  • C-Reactive Protein