Early life stress, air pollution, inflammation, and disease: An integrative review and immunologic model of social-environmental adversity and lifespan health

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2018 Sep;92:226-242. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2018.06.002. Epub 2018 Jun 3.


Socially disadvantaged individuals are at greater risk for simultaneously being exposed to adverse social and environmental conditions. Although the mechanisms underlying joint effects remain unclear, one hypothesis is that toxic social and environmental exposures have synergistic effects on inflammatory processes that underlie the development of chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression, and certain types of cancer. In the present review, we examine how exposure to two risk factors that commonly occur with social disadvantage-early life stress and air pollution-affect health. Specifically, we identify neuroimmunologic pathways that could link early life stress, inflammation, air pollution, and poor health, and use this information to propose an integrated, multi-level model that describes how these factors may interact and cause health disparity across individuals based on social disadvantage. This model highlights the importance of interdisciplinary research considering multiple exposures across domains and the potential for synergistic, cross-domain effects on health, and may help identify factors that could potentially be targeted to reduce disease risk and improve lifespan health.

Keywords: Cytokine; Early adversity; Inflammation; Inflammatory reactivity; Pro-inflammatory phenotype; Stress responsivity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollution / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Inflammation* / etiology
  • Inflammation* / immunology
  • Inflammation* / psychology
  • Longevity / physiology*
  • Models, Immunological*
  • Social Environment*
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*