Negative affectivity predicts decreased pain tolerance during low-grade inflammation in healthy women

T.e. Lacourt, J.h. Houtveen, Jet Veldhuijzen van Zanten, J.a. Bosch, M.t. Drayson, L.j.p. Van Doornen

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Introduction: Experimental animal studies provided evidence for a synergistic effect of immunological and psychological stressors on subsequent sickness behaviours. Up to now, little corroborating evidence for such synergy exists for humans, in whom it may provide a mechanism leading to the expression of functional somatic symptoms. The aim of the present study was to determine an interaction between stress(-vulnerability) and an immunological activation on experimental pain sensitivity, i.e., pressure pain threshold and tolerance in healthy humans. Methods: In healthy female participants (n = 25, mean age 22.3 years), negative affectivity (NA) and experienced stress were assessed by questionnaire before receiving a Salmonella typhi vaccine or saline control in a randomized blinded cross-over design. Pressure pain threshold was assessed at the lower back and calves and pain tolerance was assessed at the thumbnail, before and six hours after each injection. Results: Vaccination induced leukocytosis (+100%) and increased serum IL-6 (+670%). NA predicted decreased pain tolerance after vaccination (β = −.57, p = .007), but not after placebo (β = .25, p = .26). Post-hoc analyses also demonstrated an association with administration order. Discussion: NA moderated the effects of inflammation on pain tolerance. This finding is consistent with a synergistic model whereby inflammation may lower the threshold for pain reporting in individuals with increased vulnerability for somatic symptom reporting.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)32-36
JournalBrain, Behaviour, and Immunity
Early online date14 Oct 2014
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2015


  • Inflammation
  • Inflammatory response
  • Interleukin-6
  • Cytokines
  • Pain sensitivity
  • Algometry
  • Pain tolerance
  • Pain threshold
  • Pressure pain
  • Experimental pain
  • Vaccine
  • Placebo
  • Randomized control
  • Stress
  • Life events
  • Negative affectivity
  • Negative affect
  • Human


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