Biomarkers of adverse childhood experiences: A scoping review

Psychiatry Res. 2018 Nov:269:719-732. doi: 10.1016/j.psychres.2018.08.097. Epub 2018 Aug 25.


Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are stressful and/or traumatic experiences that occur during childhood. Research has demonstrated a link between ACEs and risk of physical and mental health disorders, where early life adversity may become "biologically embedded" and have wide-ranging effects on various physiological systems. The aim of this study was to identify the extent and breadth of recent research activity relating to biological measures of ACEs in adulthood. We undertook a scoping review including published research articles. Medline and PsycINFO were searched for articles from 2007 to July 2017. Articles were eligible if they included adult participants, were written in English, and reported on a biomarker of childhood adversity in adulthood. Forty articles met our inclusion criteria. Studies investigated a range of ACEs that were often measured retrospectively. The studies identified biomarkers related to inflammation (e.g., CRP), cardio/metabolic systems (e.g., BMI), genetics (e.g., telomere length), and endocrine systems (e.g., cortisol), as well as composites of multiple physiological systems. However, not every study identified found significant associations. Health behaviours, emotional distress, social relationships, and socioeconomic factors may help explain some of these associations. Further research is needed to better understand biomarkers of ACEs in adulthood and their relationship to health conditions.

Keywords: ACEs; Adults; Adverse childhood experiences; Biomarkers; Scoping review.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Adverse Childhood Experiences / economics
  • Adverse Childhood Experiences / trends*
  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Child
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Humans
  • Inflammation Mediators / blood*
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Socioeconomic Factors


  • Biomarkers
  • Inflammation Mediators