The relationship between salivary C-reactive protein and cognitive function in children aged 11-14 years: Does psychopathology have a moderating effect?

Alexis E. Cullen, Ben M. Tappin, Patricia A. Zunszain, Hannah Dickson, Ruth E. Roberts, Naghmeh Nikkheslat, Mizan Khondoker, Carmine M. Pariante, Helen L. Fisher, Kristin R. Laurens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Citations (Scopus)
13 Downloads (Pure)


Elevated C-reactive protein (CRP), a non-specific biomarker of systemic bodily inflammation, has been associated with more pronounced cognitive impairments in adults with psychiatric disorders, particularly in the domains of memory and executive function. Whether this association is present in early life (i.e., the time at which the cognitive impairments that characterise these disorders become evident), and is specific to those with emerging psychiatric disorders, has yet to be investigated. To this end, we examined the association between salivary CRP and cognitive function in children aged 11- 14 years and explored the moderating effect of psychopathology. The study utilised data from an established longitudinal investigation of children recruited from the community (N=107) that had purposively over-sampled individuals experiencing psychopathology (determined using questionnaires). CRP was measured in saliva samples and participants completed assessments of cognition (memory and executive function) and psychopathology (internalising and externalising symptoms and psychotic-like experiences). Linear regression models indicated that higher salivary CRP was associated with poorer letter fluency (β=-0.24, p=0.006) and scores on the inhibition (β=-0.28, p=0.004) and inhibition/switching (β=-0.36, p<0.001) subtests of the colour-word interference test, but not with performance on any of the memory tasks (working, visual, and verbal memory tasks). Results were largely unchanged after adjustment for psychopathology and no significant interactions between CRP and psychopathology were observed on any cognitive measure. Our findings provide preliminary evidence that elevated salivary CRP is associated with poorer cognitive function in early life, but that this association is not moderated by concurrent psychopathology. These findings have implications for early intervention strategies that attempt to ameliorate cognitive deficits associated with emerging psychiatric disorders. Further research is needed to determine whether salivary CRP levels can be used as a valid marker of peripheral inflammation among healthy adolescents.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)221-229
JournalBrain, Behavior, and Immunity
Early online date8 Jul 2017
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2017


  • Inflammation
  • Diurnal sampling
  • Neurocognitive function
  • Paediatric
  • psychiatric symptoms
  • psychosis
  • Depression

Cite this