Hostile Marital Interactions, Proinflammatory Cytokine Production, and Wound Healing

Department of Psychiatry, Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research, Ohio State University College of Medicine, 1670 Upham Drive, Columbus, OH 43210, USA.
Archives of General Psychiatry (Impact Factor: 14.48). 01/2006; 62(12):1377-84. DOI: 10.1001/archpsyc.62.12.1377
Source: PubMed


A growing epidemiological literature has suggested that marital discord is a risk factor for morbidity and mortality. In addition, depression and stress are associated with enhanced production of proinflammatory cytokines that influence a spectrum of conditions associated with aging.
To assess how hostile marital behaviors modulate wound healing, as well as local and systemic proinflammatory cytokine production.
Couples were admitted twice to a hospital research unit for 24 hours in a crossover trial. Wound healing was assessed daily following research unit discharge.
Volunteer sample of 42 healthy married couples, aged 22 to 77 years (mean [SD], 37.04 [13.05]), married a mean (SD) of 12.55 (11.01) years.
During the first research unit admission, couples had a structured social support interaction, and during the second admission, they discussed a marital disagreement.
Couples' interpersonal behavior, wound healing, and local and systemic changes in proinflammatory cytokine production were assessed during each research unit admission.
Couples' blister wounds healed more slowly and local cytokine production (IL-6, tumor necrosis factor alpha, and IL-1beta) was lower at wound sites following marital conflicts than after social support interactions. Couples who demonstrated consistently higher levels of hostile behaviors across both their interactions healed at 60% of the rate of low-hostile couples. High-hostile couples also produced relatively larger increases in plasma IL-6 and tumor necrosis factor alpha values the morning after a conflict than after a social support interaction compared with low-hostile couples.
These data provide further mechanistic evidence of the sensitivity of wound healing to everyday stressors. Moreover, more frequent and amplified increases in proinflammatory cytokine levels could accelerate a range of age-related diseases. Thus, these data also provide a window on the pathways through which hostile or abrasive relationships affect physiological functioning and health.

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