Associations between perceived discrimination and immune cell composition in the Jackson Heart Study

Jacob E. Aronoff*, Edward B. Quinn, Allana T. Forde, Láshauntá M. Glover, Alexander Reiner, Thomas W. McDade, Mario Sims

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


African American adults suffer disproportionately from several non-communicable and infectious diseases. Among numerous contributing factors, perceived discrimination is considered a stressor for members of historically marginalized groups that contributes to health risk, although biological pathways are incompletely understood. Previous studies have reported associations between stress and both an up-regulation of non-specific (innate) inflammation and down-regulation of specific (adaptive) immunity. While associations between perceived discrimination and markers of inflammation have been explored, it is unclear if this is part of an overall shift that also includes down-regulated adaptive immunity. Relying on a large cross-section of African American adults (n = 3,319) from the Jackson Heart Study (JHS) in Jackson, Mississippi, we tested whether perceived everyday and lifetime discrimination as well as perceived burden from lifetime discrimination were associated with counts of neutrophils (innate), monocytes (innate), lymphocytes (adaptive), and the neutrophil-to-lymphocyte ratio (NLR), derived from complete white blood cell counts with differential. In addition, DNA methylation (DNAm) was measured on the EPIC array in a sub-sample (n = 1,023) of participants, allowing estimation of CD4T, CD8T and B lymphocyte proportions. Unexpectedly, high lifetime discrimination compared to low was significantly associated with lower neutrophils (b: -0.14, [95% CI: -0.24, -0.04]) and a lower NLR (b: -0.15, [95% CI: -0.25, -0.05]) after controlling for confounders. However, high perceived burden from lifetime discrimination was significantly associated with higher neutrophils (b: 0.17, [95% CI: 0.05, 0.30]) and a higher NLR (b: 0.16, [95% CI: 0.03, 0.29]). High perceived burden was also associated with lower lymphocytes among older men, which our analysis suggested might have been attributable to differences in CD4T cells. These findings highlight immune function as a potentially important pathway linking perceived discrimination to health outcomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)28-36
Number of pages9
JournalBrain, Behavior, and Immunity
StatePublished - Jul 2022


  • African American Health
  • Health Disparities
  • Immune Function
  • Jackson Heart Study
  • Lymphocytes
  • NLR
  • Neutrophils
  • Perceived Discrimination
  • Stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Immunology


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