Trust as a mediator in the relationship between childhood sexual abuse and IL-6 level in adulthood

PLoS One. 2020 May 15;15(5):e0232932. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0232932. eCollection 2020.


Childhood sexual abuse (CSA) has been shown to predict the coupling of depression and inflammation in adulthood. Trust within intimate relationships, a core element in marital relations, has been shown to predict positive physical and mental health outcomes, but the mediating role of trust in partners in the association between CSA and inflammation in adulthood requires further study. The present study aimed to examine the impact of CSA on inflammatory biomarkers (IL-6 and IL-1β) in adults with depression and the mediating role of trust. A cross-sectional survey data set of adults presenting with mood and sleep disturbance was used in the analysis. CSA demonstrated a significant negative correlation with IL-6 level (r = -0.28, p<0. 01) in adults with clinically significant depression, while trust showed a significant positive correlation with IL-6 level (r = 0.36, p < .01). Sobel test and bootstrapping revealed a significant mediating role for trust between CSA and IL-6 level. CSA and trust in partners were revealed to have significant associations with IL-6 level in adulthood. Counterintuitively, the directions of association were not those expected. Trust played a mediating role between CSA and adulthood levels of IL-6. Plausible explanations for these counterintuitive findings are discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Adult Survivors of Child Abuse / psychology*
  • Child
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / psychology
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Depression / metabolism
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / immunology
  • Interleukin-1beta / analysis
  • Interleukin-1beta / blood
  • Interleukin-6 / analysis
  • Interleukin-6 / blood
  • Interleukin-6 / immunology*
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Male
  • Marriage / psychology
  • Mental Disorders / psychology
  • Middle Aged
  • Risk Factors
  • Sexual Partners / psychology
  • Trust / psychology*


  • Interleukin-1beta
  • Interleukin-6

Grant support

This research was funded by the Innovative Research Fund from the Department of Social Work and Social Administration of The University of Hong Kong.