Sex-specific association between prenatal life stress exposure and infant pro-inflammatory cytokine levels during acute respiratory infection

Steven M. Brunwasser, George M. Slavich, Dawn C. Newcomb, Tebeb Gebretsadik, Kedir N. Turi, Cosby Stone, Larry J. Anderson, Tina V. Hartert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Background: Prenatal life stress exposure is linked to dysregulated immune function and chronic inflammatory disease in offspring, but we know little about its effects on infant immune response during viral infection. Method: To address this issue, we examined associations between prenatal life stress exposure and infant upper-airway inflammatory markers during acute respiratory infection (ARI) using data from a prospective, population-based birth-cohort study (N = 180). Infant inflammation was measured as a continuous latent factor within a structural equation modeling framework using nasal wash concentrations of interleukin-1β, interleukin-6, and tumor necrosis factor-α. We hypothesized that infants exposed to prenatal life stress would have greater levels of nasal inflammation during ARI and increased risk for ARI-related morbidity in early childhood. Results: Our findings contradicted these hypotheses and provided evidence of sexually dimorphic effects of prenatal stress exposure on infant immune functioning during ARI. Among boys, but not girls, prenatal stress was negatively associated with nasal inflammation and indirectly associated with both lower ARI severity and reduced likelihood of subsequent ARI-related hospitalization in the 2nd and 3rd years of life. Conclusion: These data suggest that prenatal stress exposure may be beneficial for infant boys in the context of respiratory viral infections; however, it will be critical to determine if these benefits are offset by increased risk for chronic inflammatory diseases in later childhood. As the participants in this cohort are being followed longitudinally through age 8, we will be able to evaluate long-term health outcomes in future studies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)275-279
Number of pages5
JournalBrain, Behavior, and Immunity
StatePublished - Feb 2019
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Immunology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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