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Harsh parent–child conflict is associated with decreased anti-inflammatory gene expression and increased symptom severity in children with asthma

  • Katherine B. Ehrlich (a1), Gregory E. Miller (a1) and Edith Chen (a1)


Asthma is a chronic respiratory disorder that affects over 7 million children in the United States. Evidence indicates that family stressors are associated with worsening of asthma symptoms, and some research suggests that these stressful experiences engender changes in children's immune systems in ways that exacerbate airway inflammation and contribute to both acute and chronic asthma symptoms. We examined the association between observed experiences of parent–child conflict and the expression of signaling molecules involved in the transduction of anti-inflammatory signals that regulate airway inflammation and obstruction. Fifty-seven children and their parents participated in a conflict task, and coders rated interactions for evidence of harsh and supportive behaviors. Children reported on their perceptions of parental support and reported on their daily asthma symptoms for 2 weeks. We collected peripheral blood in children to measure leukocyte expression of messenger RNA for the glucocorticoid receptor and the β2-adrenergic receptor. Analyses revealed that harsh conflict behaviors were associated with decreased expression of both messenger RNAs and more severe asthma symptoms. Neither supportive behaviors nor perceived parental support was associated with gene expression or asthma symptoms. These findings suggest that harsh interactions with parents are associated with downregulation of key anti-inflammatory signaling molecules and difficulties breathing in children with asthma. Children with asthma who are also victims of maltreatment may be particularly susceptible to transcriptional changes in immune cells that could worsen asthma over time.


Corresponding author

Address correspondence and reprint request to: Katherine B. Ehrlich, Institute for Policy Research, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL 60208; E-mail:


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Harsh parent–child conflict is associated with decreased anti-inflammatory gene expression and increased symptom severity in children with asthma

  • Katherine B. Ehrlich (a1), Gregory E. Miller (a1) and Edith Chen (a1)


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