Immune system changes after sexual abuse in adolescents

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Background:The immunological changes in diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis have been found to be similar to the immunological changes in adults with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The biological consequences of and immunological disruptions associated with psychological trauma in sexually abused adolescents were investigated in this study.Methods:Number of peripheral blood cells, intracellular cytokine level and cytotoxic activity of natural killer cells were measured on routine blood examination samples in adolescents aged 13–18 referred to the outpatient unit for forensic evaluation. Forty-three adolescents (patients with present/lifetime PTSD [PTSD-P/PTSD-L] associated with a history of childhood sexual abuse, n = 33; and 10 controls) were evaluated.Results:Eosinophil percentage was high (P < 0.05), whereas stimulated intracellular interferon-γ was low (P < 0.05) in adolescents with PTSD-L compared with the control group. In PTSD-P patients exposed to repeated sexual abuse, CD3+ HLA-DR+ T-lymphocyte count was low (P < 0.05) compared with those with one-time sexual abuse.Conclusion:The increase in some immune system parameters and the decrease in several others, suggests a dysregulation of the immune system related to trauma in adolescents. Dysregulation of the immune system is known to cause autoimmune and chronic disease.

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