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When inflammation and depression go together: The longitudinal effects of parent–child relationships

  • Steven R. H. Beach (a1), Man Kit Lei (a1), Ronald L. Simons (a1), Ashley B. Barr (a2), Leslie G. Simons (a1), Katherine Ehrlich (a1), Gene H. Brody (a1) and Robert A. Philibert (a3)...


Parent–child relationships have long-term effects on health, particularly later inflammation and depression. We hypothesized that these effects would be mediated by later romantic partner relationships and elevated stressors in young adulthood, helping promote chronic, low grade, inflammation as well as depressive symptoms, and driving their covariation. It has been proposed recently that youth experiencing harsher parenting may also develop a stronger association between inflammation and depressive symptoms in adulthood and altered effects of stressors on outcomes. In the current investigation, we test these ideas using an 18-year longitudinal study of N = 413 African American youth that provides assessment of the parent–child relationship (at age 10), pro-inflammatory cytokine profile and depressive symptoms (at age 28), and potential mediators in early young adulthood (assessed at ages 21 and 24). As predicted, the effect of harsher parent–child relationships (age 10) on pro-inflammatory state and increased depressive symptoms at age 28 were fully mediated through young adult stress and romantic partner relationships. In addition, beyond these mediated effects, parent–child relationships at age 10 moderated the concurrent association between inflammation and depressive symptoms, as well as the prospective association between romantic partner relationships and inflammation, and resulted in substantially different patterns of indirect effects from young adult mediators to outcomes. The results support theorizing that the association of depression and inflammation in young adulthood is conditional on earlier parenting, and suggest incorporating this perspective into models predicting long-term health outcomes.


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Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Steven R. H. Beach, Center for Family Research, University of Georgia, 1095 College Station Road, Athens, GA 30602-4527; E-mail:


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This research was supported by Award Number R01 HL8045 from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; Award Number R01 HD080749 from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development; and P30 DA027827 from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily reflect the official views of the National Institutes of Health or any agencies that comprise it.



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