Early childhood stress is associated with elevated antibody levels to herpes simplex virus type 1

  • Shirtcliff E
  • Coe C
  • Pollak S
  • 13


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It is well known that children need solicitous parenting and a nurturing rearing environment to ensure their normal behavioral development. Early adversity often negatively impacts emotional and mental well-being, but it is less clearly established how much the maturation and regulation of physiological systems is also compromised. The following research investigated the effect of 2 different types of adverse childhood experiences, early deprivation through institutionalization and physical abuse, on a previously unexplored outcome: the containment of herpes simplex virus (HSV). The presence of HSV-specific antibody in salivary specimens was determined in 155 adolescents, including 41 postinstitutionalized, 34 physically-abused, and 80 demographically-similar control youth. Across 4 school and home days, HSV antibody was higher in both postinstitutionalized and physically-abused adolescents when compared with control participants. Because the prevalence of HSV infection was similar across the groups, the elevated antibody was likely indicative of viral recrudescence from latency. Total secretory Ig-A secretion was associated with HSV, but did not account for the group differences in HSV-specific antibody. These findings are likely caused by a failure of cellular immune processes to limit viral reactivation, indicating a persistent effect of early rearing on immune functioning. The fact that antibody profiles were still altered years after adoption into a more benevolent setting with supportive families suggests these results were not caused by contemporaneous factors, but rather reflect a lingering influence of earlier life experiences.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Adolescent
  • Antibodies, Viral/*analysis
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Child
  • Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay
  • Female
  • Herpesvirus 1, Human/*immunology
  • Humans
  • Immunocompetence
  • Life Change Events
  • Male
  • Risk Factors
  • Saliva/*immunology
  • Stress, Psychological/*immunology

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  • E A Shirtcliff

  • C L Coe

  • S D Pollak

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