Experimental stress and immunity


Experimental stress and immunity in animals, already mentioned in pioneering studies, is the subject of a very large literature. (28> Type, duration, intensity, timing (in relation to antigen administration), and controllability of the stressor are all relevant to its immunological impact. In primates, social support is a modifier of stress effects/29) Behavioural response to the stressor, such as defeat posture, may be critical to the immunological outcome.


Acute experimental stress in humans (akin to the fight-or-flight reaction), such as mental arithmetic, generally results in a transient increase in 'first-line-of-defence' immunity, such as NK cell numbers and activity, and such effects have psychophysiological correlates. (39

Naturally occurring human life stresses, both acute (e.g. examinations) and chronic (e.g. caring for patients with Alzheimer's disease), adversely affect a wide array of immune measures/,31 These include T-cell function, NK cell activity, antibody response to immunization, macrophage function, and activation of latent viruses like herpes simplex (controlled by cellular not humoral immunity). Such effects are increasingly being shown to have health implications. Social support can ameliorate stress effects. Natural disasters can have prolonged effects on immunity. (32)

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