The Role of Interpersonal Problems in the Relationship Between Early Abuse Experiences and Adult Immune Functioning

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Virginia Tech


The current study aimed to test the long-term impact of abuse on immune functioning and to test the mediating role of interpersonal problems in the relationship between early child abuse experiences and immune functioning. A sample of 89 undergraduate adult women (M age = 19.24) completed reports of child abuse histories, interpersonal problems, and negative life events, and provided saliva samples to measure Secretory Immunoglobulin A (sIgA) and antibody level for Herpes Simplex Virus Type 1 (HSV-1-sIgA). Participants were divided into three abuse history groups (i.e., no history of abuse, child physical abuse, child sexual abuse). The results failed to support the proposed mediation models. Age and recent unwanted sexual experiences, but not childhood abuse, were associated with reduced sIgA levels. The non-abused group evidenced a higher proportion of participants with detectable HSV-1-sIgA compared to the child physical abuse and child sexual abuse groups. In those with detectable HSV-1-sIgA, both abuse groups appeared to have higher levels, but this needs to be tested in future research with larger sample sizes. These findings suggest that the impact of victimization on sIgA may be more short-lived, while child abuse may be associated with a greater HSV-1 recurrence from latency. Future studies should examine other psychosocial predictors of immune level differences.



child abuse, interpersonal problems, immunological