© 2019 The British Pharmacological Society Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), defined as traumatic events in childhood that range from various forms of abuse to household challenges and dysfunction, have devastating consequences on adult health. Epidemiological studies in humans and animal models of early life stress (ELS) have revealed a strong association and insight into the mechanistic link between ACEs and increased risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD). This review focuses on the mechanistic links of ACEs in humans and ELS in mice and rats to vasoactive factors and immune mediators associated with CVD and hypertension risk, as well as sex differences in these phenomena. Major topics of discussion in this review are as follows: (a) epidemiological associations between ACEs and CVD risk focusing on hypertension, (b) evidence for association of ACE exposures to immune-mediated and/or vasoactive pathways, (c) rodent models of ELS-induced hypertension risk, (d) proinflammatory mediators and vasoactive factors as mechanisms of ELS-induced hypertension risk. We also provide some overall conclusions and directions of further research. Linked Articles: This article is part of a themed section on Immune Targets in Hypertension. To view the other articles in this section visit http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/bph.v176.12/issuetoc.