Chronic psychological stress is associated with accelerated biological aging, immune dysfunction, and premature morbidity and mortality. Changes in the relative proportions of T cell subpopulations are thought to be a characteristic of immunological aging; however, understanding of whether these changes are associated with chronic psychological stress is incomplete. This study investigated associations between chronic caregiving stress and distributions of T cell phenotypes in a sample of high stress mothers of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (caregivers; n = 91) and low stress mothers of neurotypical children (controls; n = 88). Immune markers assessed were naïve (CD45RA + CD62L+), central memory (CD45RA-CD62L+), and effector memory (CD45RA-CD62L-) CD4+ and CD8+ T cells. We also examined the ratio of effector to naïve (E:N) CD4+ and CD8+ T cells. In models adjusted for age, body mass index, race/ethnicity, and antidepressant use, caregivers displayed higher percentages of effector memory CD8+ and CD4+ T cells as well as lower percentages of naïve CD8+ T cells and central memory CD8+ and CD4+ T cells compared to controls. Caregivers also displayed significantly higher E:N ratios for both CD4+ and CD8+ T cells. These findings were also independent of cytomegalovirus infection status. Furthermore, higher parental stress, across both groups, was related to several immune parameters. These findings provide preliminary evidence that chronic parental caregiving stress is associated with changes in relative proportions of T cell subpopulations that are consistent with accelerated immunological aging.
Keywords: Aging; Caregiving; Immunosenescence; Parental stress; T cell.
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