Offspring of parents who were separated and not speaking to one another have reduced resistance to the common cold as adults [Psychological and Cognitive Sciences]
Exposure to parental separation or divorce during childhood has been associated with an increased risk for physical morbidity during adulthood. Here we tested the hypothesis that this association is primarily attributable to separated parents who do not communicate with each other. We also examined whether early exposure to separated parents in conflict is associated with greater viral-induced inflammatory response in adulthood and in turn with increased susceptibility to viral-induced upper respiratory disease. After assessment of their parents’ relationship during their childhood, 201 healthy volunteers, age 18–55 y, were quarantined, experimentally exposed to a virus that causes a common cold, and monitored for 5 d for the development of a respiratory illness. Monitoring included daily assessments of viral-specific infection, objective markers of illness, and local production of proinflammatory cytokines. Adults whose parents lived apart and never spoke during their childhood were more than three times as likely to develop a cold when exposed to the upper respiratory virus than adults from intact families. Conversely, individuals whose parents were separated but communicated with each other showed no increase in risk compared with those from intact families. These differences persisted in analyses adjusted for potentially confounding variables (demographics, current socioeconomic status, body mass index, season, baseline immunity to the challenge virus, affectivity, and childhood socioeconomic status). Mediation analyses were consistent with the hypothesis that greater susceptibility to respiratory infectious illness among the offspring of noncommunicating parents was attributable to a greater local proinflammatory response to infection.
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