Does early life adversity affect mental health and social cognition via an inflammatory response

  • G. Donohoe
  • J. Holland
  • M. Dauvermann
  • D. Morris


Background: Early life adversity (ELA), including physical abuse or neglect and emotional abuse or neglect, is a significant risk factor for a range of mental health disorders. Changes in cognitive function, and in particular social cognition, are also associated with many of these disorders. In psychosis, ELA and cognitive deficits have, separately, been associated with an increased immune In this study we sought to determine whether ELA's might affect social cognitive performance and if so, whether these affects were mediate via an impact on immune response. Methods: Using the Avon Longitudinal study of parents and children (ALSPAC; n~5,000), ELA was defined in terms of the experience of physical abuse or neglect, emotional abuse or neglect, witnessing domestic violence, and harsh parent before the age of 5 years. Social cognition was defined in terms of theory of mind performance while general cognitive ability was defined in terms of IQ. Immune function was measured using C-reactive protein and Interleukin-6. Findings: Early life adversity was associated with poorer performance on a range of both general and social cognitive measures. While Immune function was associated with both early life adversity and cognitive performance, it was not observed to mediate the effects of ELA on cognition. Discussion: While increased immune response has been associated with both early life adversity and cognitive impairment, this response was not observed to mediate the relationship between these two aspects of cognition. Alternative hypothesis for understanding the mechanism by which ELA may result in poorer cognitive performance will be discussed.
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