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Keywords:

  • child abuse;
  • childhood trauma;
  • inflammation;
  • immune system;
  • cytokines;
  • stress

Objective

Childhood maltreatment (CM) has been associated with several diseases in adult life, including diabetes, obesity and mental disorders. Inflammatory conditions have been postulated as possible mediators of this relationship. The aim was to conduct a systematic review regarding the association between CM and inflammatory markers in adulthood.

Method

A literature search of the PubMed, ISI, EMBASE and PsychINFO databases was conducted. The key terms used were as follows: ‘Child Maltreatment’, ‘Childhood Trauma’, ‘Early Life Stress’, ‘Psychological Stress’, ‘Emotional Stress’, ‘Child Abuse’ and ‘Child Neglect’. They were cross-referenced separately with the terms: ‘C-reactive Protein (CRP)’, ‘Tumor Necrosis Factor’, ‘Cytokine’, ‘Interleukin’, ‘Inflammatory’ and ‘Inflammation’.

Results

Twenty articles remained in the review after exclusion criteria were applied. Studies showed that a history of CM was associated with increased levels of CRP, fibrinogen and proinflammatory cytokines. Increased levels of circulating CRP in individuals with a history of CM were the most robust finding among the studies. Data about anti-inflammatory mediators are still few and inconsistent.

Conclusion

Childhood maltreatment is associated with a chronic inflammatory state independent of clinical comorbidities. However, studies are heterogeneous regarding CM assessment and definition. Important methodological improvements are needed to better understand the potential impact of CM on inflammatory response.