Early life adversity (ELA) has been associated with inflammation and immunosenescence, as well as hyporeactivity of the HPA axis. Because the immune system and the HPA axis are tightly intertwined around the glucocorticoid receptor (GR), we examined peripheral GR functionality in the EpiPath cohort among participants who either had been exposed to ELA (separation from parents and/or institutionalization followed by adoption; n = 40) or had been reared by their biological parents (n = 72).
Expression of the strict GR target genes FKBP5 and GILZ as well as total and 1F and 1H GR transcripts were similar between groups. Furthermore, there were no differences in GR sensitivity, examined by the effects of dexamethasone on IL6 production in LPS-stimulated whole blood. Although we did not find differences in methylation at the GR 1F exon or promoter region, we identified a region of the GR 1H promoter (CpG 1-9) that showed lower methylation levels in ELA.
Our results suggest that peripheral GR signaling was unperturbed in our cohort and the observed immune phenotype does not appear to be secondary to an altered GR response to the perturbed HPA axis and glucocorticoid (GC) profile, although we are limited in our measures of GR activity and time points.