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Trajectories of relationship stress and inflammatory processes in adolescence

  • Katherine B. Ehrlich (a1), Gregory E. Miller (a1), Nicolas Rohleder (a2) and Emma K. Adam (a1)

Researchers have identified cross-sectional links between interpersonal stress and inflammation. Little is known, however, about how these dynamics unfold over time, what underlying immune pathways might exist, or whether moderators such as race could alter the strength of the connection between interpersonal stress and inflammatory processes. We examined whether adolescent girls whose relationship trajectories were characterized by chronic stress would exhibit a proinflammatory phenotype marked by systemic inflammation, heightened cytokine responses to bacterial challenges, and resistance to the anti-inflammatory properties of cortisol. Significant Stress × Race interactions revealed that family stress trajectories predicted glucocorticoid sensitivity and peer stress trajectories predicted cytokine production for White but not Asian girls. Relationship stress trajectories were not associated with systemic inflammation, however. These findings suggest that particular subgroups of adolescent girls who face chronic and elevated stress in their close relationships may be at risk for disruptions to the immune system.

Corresponding author
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Katherine B. Ehrlich, Institute for Policy Research, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL 60208; E-mail:
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