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Immune and neuroendocrine correlates of temperament in infancy

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 November 2017

Thomas G. O'Connor*
University of Rochester
Kristin Scheible
University of Rochester
Ana Vallejo Sefair
University of Rochester
Michelle Gilchrist
DePaul University
Emma Robertson Blackmore
University of Rochester
Marcia A. Winter
Virginia Commonwealth University
Megan R. Gunnar
University of Minnesota
Claire Wyman
University of Rochester
Jennifer Carnahan
University of Rochester
Jan A. Moynihan
University of Rochester
Mary T. Caserta
University of Rochester
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Thomas G. O'Connor, Wynne Center for Family Research, Department of Psychiatry, University of Rochester Medical Center, 300 Crittenden Boulevard, Rochester, NY 14642; E-mail:


There is now a clear focus on incorporating, and integrating, multiple levels of analysis in developmental science. The current study adds to research in this area by including markers of the immune and neuroendocrine systems in a longitudinal study of temperament in infants. Observational and parent-reported ratings of infant temperament, serum markers of the innate immune system, and cortisol reactivity from repeated salivary collections were examined in a sample of 123 infants who were assessed at 6 months and again when they were, on average, 17 months old. Blood from venipuncture was collected for analyses of nine select innate immune cytokines; salivary cortisol collected prior to and 15 min and 30 min following a physical exam including blood draw was used as an index of neuroendocrine functioning. Analyses indicated fairly minimal significant associations between biological markers and temperament at 6 months. However, by 17 months of age, we found reliable and nonoverlapping associations between observed fearful temperament and biological markers of the immune and neuroendocrine systems. The findings provide some of the earliest evidence of robust biological correlates of fear behavior with the immune system, and identify possible immune and neuroendocrine mechanisms for understanding the origins of behavioral development.

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Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2017 

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We thank Suzanne Coglitore, Carol Ferro, Mary Harper, Bridget O'Connor, Bridget Szczypinski, and the staff at the Clinical Research Center for their assistance with the study, and the mothers and babies who participated. The Thoughts, Emotions, and Mood in Pregnancy study was funded by National Institute of Health Grant MH073019; support was also provided by NIH Grants MH529173, K23MH080290, and K99HD070953. Additional support was provided through the Clinical Research Center from UL1 RR 024160 from the National Center for Research Resources, a component of the NIH, and the NIH Roadmap for Medical Research. Study contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official view of the NCRR or the NIH. All authors declare that there are no conflicts of interest.


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