Enhancing versus suppressive effects of stress hormones on skin immune function

Firdaus Dhabhar, Bruce S. Mcewen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

496 Scopus citations

Abstract

Delayed-type hypersensitivity (DTH) reactions are antigen-specific cell- mediated immune responses that, depending on the antigen, mediate beneficial (e.g., resistance to viruses, bacteria, and fungi) or harmful (e.g., allergic dermatitis and autoimmunity) aspects of immune function. Contrary to the idea that stress suppresses immunity, we have reported that short-duration stressors significantly enhance skin DTH and that a stress-induced trafficking of leukocytes to the skin may mediate this immunoenhancement. Here, we identify the hormonal mediators of a stress-induced enhancement of skin immunity. Adrenalectomy, which eliminates the glucocorticoid and epinephrine stress response, eliminated the stress-induced enhancement of skin DTH. Low-dose corticosterone or epinephrine administration significantly enhanced skin DTH and produced a significant increase in the number of T cells in lymph nodes draining the site of the DTH reaction. In contrast, high-dose corticosterone, chronic corticosterone, or low-dose dexamethasone administration significantly suppressed skin DTH. These results suggest a role for adrenal stress hormones as endogenous immunoenhancing agents. These results also show that hormones released during an acute stress response may help prepare the immune system for potential challenges (e.g., wounding or infection) for which stress perception by the brain may serve as an early warning signal.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1059-1064
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Volume96
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 2 1999
Externally publishedYes

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ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • General

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