Immune cell dynamics in response to an acute laboratory stressor: a within-person between-group analysis of the biological impact of early life adversity

Laura Etzel, Abner T. Apsley, Brooke C. Mattern, Waylon J. Hastings, Thomas Heller, Nilam Ram, Sue Rutherford Siegel, Idan Shalev

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations

Abstract

Early life adversity (ELA) is a risk factor for early onset morbidities and mortality, a relationship that may be driven in part by immune system dysregulation. One mechanism of dysregulation that has yet to be fully examined in the context of ELA is alterations to immune cell dynamics in response to acute stress. Using a within-person between-group experimental design, we investigated stress-induced changes in immune cell populations, and how these changes may be altered in individuals with a history of ELA. Participants were young adults (N = 34, aged 18–25 years, 53% female, 47% with a history of ELA). Complete immune cell counts were measured at four time-points over a 5-hour window across two sessions (Trier Social Stress Test [TSST] vs. no-stress) separated by a week. Across all participants, total white blood cells increased over time (F(3,84)=38.97, p <.001) with a greater increase in response to the TSST compared to the no-stress condition at 240 minutes post-test (b = 0.43±.19; t(179)=2.22, p =.027). This pattern was mirrored by neutrophil counts. Lymphocyte counts were initially depressed by TSST exposure (b =−205±.67; t(184)=−3.07, p =.002) but recovered above baseline. ELA status was associated with higher stress-induced immune cell counts, a difference likely driven by increases in neutrophils (F(1,22)=4.45, p =.046). Overall, these results indicate differential immune cell dynamics in response to acute stress in individuals with a history of ELA. This points to altered immune system functioning in the context of stress, a finding that may be driving increased morbidity and mortality risk for ELA-exposed individuals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)347-356
Number of pages10
JournalStress
Volume25
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Physiology
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Behavioral Neuroscience

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