There is burgeoning interest in the ability to detect inflammatory markers in response to stress within naturally occurring social contexts and/or across multiple time points per day within individuals. Salivary collection is a less invasive process than current methods of blood collection and enables intensive naturalistic methodologies, such as those involving extensive repeated measures per day over time. Yet the reliability and validity of saliva-based to blood-based inflammatory biomarkers in response to stress remains unclear. We review and synthesize the published studies that have examined salivary markers of inflammation following exposure to an acute laboratory stressor. Results from each study are reviewed by analyte (IL-1β, TNF-α, IL-6, IL-2, IL-4, IL-10, IL-12, CRP) and stress type (social-cognitive and exercise-physical), after which methodological issues and limitations are addressed. Although the literature is limited, several inflammatory markers (including IL-1β, TNF-α, and IL-6) have been reliably determined from saliva and have increased significantly in response to stress across multiple studies, with effect sizes ranging from very small to very large. Although CRP from saliva has been associated with CRP in circulating blood more consistently than other biomarkers have been associated with their counterparts in blood, evidence demonstrating it reliably responds to acute stress is absent. Although the current literature is presently too limited to allow broad assertion that inflammatory biomarkers determined from saliva are valuable for examining acute stress responses, this review suggests that specific targets may be valid and highlights specific areas of need for future research.
Keywords: Acute stress; Biomarkers; Cytokines; Ecological momentary assessment; Exercise; Inflammation; Methods; Psychological stress; Saliva.
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