Open Access Research article

Posttraumatic stress disorder is associated with an enhanced spontaneous production of pro-inflammatory cytokines by peripheral blood mononuclear cells

Hannah Gola15, Harald Engler2, Annette Sommershof3, Hannah Adenauer1, Stephan Kolassa4, Manfred Schedlowski2, Marcus Groettrup3, Thomas Elbert1 and Iris-Tatjana Kolassa15*

Author Affiliations

1 Clinical Psychology & Neuropsychology, University of Konstanz, Konstanz, Germany

2 Institute of Medical Psychology and Behavioral Immunobiology, University Hospital Essen, University of Duisburg-Essen, Essen, Germany

3 Division of Immunology, University of Konstanz, Konstanz, Germany

4 Research & Innovation, Center of Excellence Forecasting & Replenishment, SAP AG, Tägerwilen, Switzerland

5 Clinical & Biological Psychology, Institute of Psychology & Education, University of Ulm, Albert-Einstein-Allee 47, 89069, Ulm, Germany

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BMC Psychiatry 2013, 13:40  doi:10.1186/1471-244X-13-40

Published: 29 January 2013



Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is associated with an enhanced risk for cardiovascular and other inflammatory diseases. Chronic low-level inflammation has been suggested as a potential mechanism linking these conditions.


We investigated plasma cytokine levels as well as spontaneous and lipopolysaccharide (LPS)-stimulated cytokine production by peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) in a group of 35 severely traumatized PTSD patients compared to 25 healthy controls.


Spontaneous production of interleukin (IL)-1β, IL-6 and tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α by isolated PBMCs was significantly higher in the PTSD compared to the control group and even correlated with PTSD symptom severity within the PTSD group. In contrast, circulating plasma levels of pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokines such as IL-6, IL-8, IL-10, TNF-α, or monocyte chemotactic protein (MCP)-1 were not significantly altered in PTSD patients compared to healthy controls.


Our findings indicate that PBMCs of PTSD patients are already pre-activated in vivo, providing further evidence for low-grade inflammation in PTSD. This might possibly represent one psychobiological pathway from PTSD to poor physical health.

Posttraumatic stress disorder; Immune system; Cytokines; Pro-inflammatory cytokines; Traumatic stress; Inflammation