Patterning of educational attainment across inflammatory markers: Findings from a multi-cohort study

Brain Behav Immun. 2020 Nov;90:303-310. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2020.09.002. Epub 2020 Sep 10.


Background: Evidence suggests that the inflammatory reaction, an adaptive response triggered by a variety of harmful stimuli and conditions involved in the risk and development of many chronic diseases, is a potential pathway through which the socioeconomic environment is biologically embedded. Difficulty in interpreting the role of the inflammatory system in the embodiment dynamic arises because of heterogeneity across studies that use a limited but varied number of inflammatory markers. There is no consensus in the literature as to which inflammatory markers beyond the C-reactive protein and to a lesser extent interleukin 6 are related to the social environment. Accordingly, we aimed to investigate the association between educational attainment, and several markers of inflammation - C-reactive protein, fibrinogen, interleukin 6, interleukin 1β and tumor necrosis factor α- in 6 European cohort studies.

Methods: Up to 17,470 participants from six European cohort studies with data on educational attainment, health behaviors and lifestyle factors, and at least two different inflammatory markers. Four sub-datasets were drawn with varying numbers of participants to allow pairwise comparison of the social patterning of C-reactive protein and any other inflammatory markers. To evaluate within each sub-dataset the importance of the context and cohort specificities, linear regression-based analyses were performed separately for each cohort and combined in a random effect meta-analysis to determine the relationship between educational attainment and inflammation.

Results: We found that the magnitude of the relationship between educational attainment and five inflammatory biomarkers (C-reactive protein, fibrinogen, interleukin 6 and 1β and tumor necrosis factor α) was variable. By far the most socially patterned biomarker was C-reactive protein, followed by fibrinogen and to lesser extent interleukin 6, where a low educational attainment was associated with higher inflammation even after adjusting for health behaviours and body mass index. No association was found with interleukin 1β and tumor necrosis factor α.

Conclusions: Our study suggests different educational patterning of inflammatory biomarkers. Further large-scale research is needed to explore social differences in the inflammatory cascade in greater detail and the extent to which these differences contribute to social inequalities in health.

Keywords: Cohort studies; Educational level; Inflammation; Social inequalities in health.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers
  • C-Reactive Protein*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Educational Status
  • Humans
  • Inflammation*


  • Biomarkers
  • C-Reactive Protein