Symptom severity predicts degree of T cell activation in adult women following childhood maltreatment

Andrine Lemieux, Christopher L. Coe, Molly Carnes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

63 Scopus citations


Although depression is often associated with a reduction in cellular immune responses, other types of emotional disturbance and psychopathology can activate certain aspects of immunity. Activation markers on T cells, in particular, have been found to be elevated in post-traumatic stress states. However, little is known about the relationship between the severity of PTSD symptoms and the degree of change in T cell phenotypes, or about the potential role of neuroendocrine factors in mediating the association. Twenty-four women with a history of sexual trauma during childhood, including 11 who met diagnostic criteria for PTSD, were compared to 12 age-matched, healthy women without a history of maltreatment. The women provided fasted blood samples for enumeration of cell subsets by immunofluorescence and 24-h urine samples for analysis of catecholamine and cortisol levels. The percent of T cells expressing CD45RA, an early activation marker, was higher in the PTSD diagnosed women, and the levels correlated positively with intrusive symptoms and negatively with avoidant symptoms. These alterations in cell surface markers did not appear to be mediated by norepinephrine (NE) or cortisol, making them a distinctive and independent biomarker of arousal and disturbance in PTSD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)994-1003
Number of pages10
JournalBrain, Behavior, and Immunity
Issue number6
StatePublished - Aug 2008
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was conducted at the University of Wisconsin General Clinical Research Center (GCRC), which was supported by M01 RR03186 from the National Center for Research Resources, NIH. Dr. Lemieux was also supported by NIMH Dissertation Grant MH10377. Dr. Carnes’ was supported by the General Clinical Research Center Grant M01 RR03186; and the Geriatric Research, Education, and Clinical Center of the Madison Veteran’s Hospital, Madison, WI.


  • Childhood sexual abuse
  • Memory T cell
  • NE
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder


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