Short-term stress experienced at time of immunization induces a long-lasting increase in immunologic memory

Firdaus S. Dhabhar, Kavitha Viswanathan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

82 Scopus citations


It would be extremely beneficial if one could harness natural, endogenous, health-promoting defense mechanisms to fight disease and restore health. The psychophysiological stress response is the most underappreciated of nature's survival mechanisms. We show that acute stress experienced before primary immunization induces a long-lasting increase in immunity. Compared with controls, mice restrained for 2.5 h before primary immunization with keyhole limpet hemocyanin (KLH) show a significantly enhanced immune response when reexposed to KLH 9 mo later. This immunoenhancement is mediated by an increase in numbers of memory and effector helper T cells in sentinel lymph nodes at the time of primary immunization. Further analyses show that the early stress-induced increase in T cell memory may stimulate the robust increase in infiltrating lymphocyte and macrophage numbers observed months later at a novel site of antigen reexposure. Enhanced leukocyte infiltration may be driven by increased levels of the type 1 cytokines, IL-2 and IFN-γ, and TNF-α, observed at the site of antigen reexposure in animals that had been stressed at the time of primary immunization. In contrast, no differences were observed in type 2 cytokines, IL-4 or IL-5. Given the importance of inducing long-lasting increases in immunologic memory during vaccination, we suggest that the neuroendocrine stress response is nature's adjuvant that could be psychologically and/or pharmacologically manipulated to safely increase vaccine efficacy. These studies introduce the novel concept that a psychophysiological stress response is nature's fundamental survival mechanism that could be therapeutically harnessed to augment immune function during vaccination, wound healing, or infection.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)R738-R744
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Regulatory Integrative and Comparative Physiology
Issue number3 58-3
StatePublished - Sep 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Hormone
  • Langerhans cell
  • Leukocyte trafficking
  • Skin diseases
  • Surveillance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Physiology (medical)


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