Sex Differences in Peritraumatic Inflammatory Cytokines and Steroid Hormones Contribute to Prospective Risk for Nonremitting Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

Chloe S. Lalonde, Yara Mekawi, Kelly F. Ethun, Eleonore Beurel, Felicia Gould, Firdaus S. Dhabhar, Katharina Schultebraucks, Isaac Galatzer-Levy, Jessica L. Maples-Keller, Barbara O. Rothbaum, Kerry J. Ressler, Charles Nemeroff, Jennifer S. Stevens, Vasiliki Michopoulos

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Women are at higher risk for developing posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) compared to men, yet little is known about the biological contributors to this sex difference. One possible mechanism is differential immunological and neuroendocrine responses to traumatic stress exposure. In the current prospective study, we aimed to identify whether sex is indirectly associated with the probability of developing nonremitting PTSD through pro-inflammatory markers and whether steroid hormone concentrations influence this effect. Female (n = 179) and male (n = 197) trauma survivors were recruited from an emergency department and completed clinical assessment within 24 h and blood samples within ∼three hours of trauma exposure. Pro-inflammatory cytokines (IL-6, IL-1 (Formula presented.), TNF, IFNγ), and steroid hormone (estradiol, testosterone, progesterone, cortisol) concentrations were quantified in plasma. Compared to men, women had a higher probability of developing nonremitting PTSD after trauma (p = 0.04), had lower pro-inflammatory cytokines and testosterone (p’s<0.001), and had higher cortisol and progesterone (p’s<0.001) concentrations. Estradiol concentrations were not different between the sexes (p = 0.24). Pro-inflammatory cytokines were a significant mediator in the relationship between sex and probability of developing nonremitting PTSD (p < 0.05), such that men had higher concentrations of pro-inflammatory cytokines which were associated with lower risk of nonremitting PTSD development. This effect was significantly moderated by estradiol (p < 0.05), as higher estradiol levels in men were associated with higher pro-inflammatory cytokine concentrations and lower risk for developing nonremitting PTSD. The current results suggest that sex differences in the pro-inflammatory cytokine response to trauma exposure partially mediate the probability of developing nonremitting PTSD, and that the protective ability to mount an pro-inflammatory cytokine response in men may depend on higher estradiol levels in the aftermath of trauma exposure.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalChronic Stress
Volume5
DOIs
StatePublished - 2021

Keywords

  • cytokines
  • hormones
  • inflammation
  • PTSD
  • sex differences
  • steroids

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Behavioral Neuroscience

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