BMC Psychiatry

, 13:40 | Cite as

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

  • Hannah Gola
  • Harald Engler
  • Annette Sommershof
  • Hannah Adenauer
  • Stephan Kolassa
  • Manfred Schedlowski
  • Marcus Groettrup
  • Thomas Elbert
  • Iris-Tatjana KolassaEmail author
Research article
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Stress and anxiety



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 



Below detection limit


Clinician Administered PTSD Scale


C-reactive protein


Hamilton Depression Rating Scale






Monocyte chemotactic protein


Mini International Neuropsychiatric Interview


Peripheral blood mononuclear cells




Posttraumatic stress disorder


Screening for Somatoform Symptoms-7


Tumor necrosis factor


White blood cell.



We thank Dr. Claudia Catani, Dr. Maggie Schauer, Dr. Martina Ruf and Prof. Dr. Frank Neuner for clinical supervision and treatment of patients as well as Heike Riedke and Christiane Wolf for technical assistance. This research was conducted at the University of Konstanz. Hannah Gola and Iris-Tatjana Kolassa are now at the University of Ulm.

This study was funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) FOR751 and the European Refugee Fund. The DFG and the European Refugee Fund had no further role in study design; in the collection, analysis and interpretation of data; in the writing of the report; and in the decision to submit the paper for publication.

Supplementary material

12888_2012_1216_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (62 kb)
Authors’ original file for figure 1


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Pre-publication history

  1. The pre-publication history for this paper can be accessed here:

Copyright information

© Gola et al.; lincensee BioMed Central Ltd. 2013

This article is published under license to BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Authors and Affiliations

  • Hannah Gola
    • 1
    • 5
  • Harald Engler
    • 2
  • Annette Sommershof
    • 3
  • Hannah Adenauer
    • 1
  • Stephan Kolassa
    • 4
  • Manfred Schedlowski
    • 2
  • Marcus Groettrup
    • 3
  • Thomas Elbert
    • 1
  • Iris-Tatjana Kolassa
    • 1
    • 5
    Email author
  1. 1.Clinical Psychology & NeuropsychologyUniversity of KonstanzKonstanzGermany
  2. 2.Institute of Medical Psychology and Behavioral Immunobiology, University Hospital EssenUniversity of Duisburg-EssenEssenGermany
  3. 3.Division of ImmunologyUniversity of KonstanzKonstanzGermany
  4. 4.Research & Innovation, Center of Excellence Forecasting & ReplenishmentTägerwilenSwitzerland
  5. 5.Clinical & Biological Psychology, Institute of Psychology & EducationUniversity of UlmUlmGermany

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