Short-term social stress may benefit immune response to infection

Stress is generally thought to be bad for the immune system, lowering the body's ability to fight off disease. But Ohio State University scientists report that short-term social stress actually benefited the immune system of mice given low-dose influenza infection, and the scientists believe the finding has broad implications for more effective vaccination strategies.

Jacqueline Wiesehan, a graduate student in the laboratory of Dr. John Sheridan at The Ohio State University College of Dentistry, presents the study April 3 at an American Association of Immunologists session during the Experimental Biology meeting in San Diego.

A growing body of literature demonstrates that immune system responsiveness to influenza infection and vaccination is heavily influenced by the nervous system. In fact, previous research at The Ohio State University had shown that persons caring for a spouse with Alzheimer's disease did not gain the same level of protection from an influenza vaccination as did their counterparts without the same chronic stress. The mice in Wiesehan's and Dr. Sheridan's study experienced a very different type of stress, however: short-term, episodic, and severe. The mice lived in a colony with a well established hierarchy of mice, so having a higher-ranked, more aggressive mouse placed in their cage for two hours was definitely disruptive and upsetting. This stressful episode was repeated on six consecutive days, after which both stressed and non-stressed mice were given a low-dose influenza infection.

All mice quickly recovered from the mild infection and within four weeks had developed stable immunological memory to the virus, parallel to what happens after a flu shot. But delayed hypersensitivity tests and fluorescently-labeled antibody screening revealed that the mice that had been stressed prior to receiving the influenza infection had a stronger immune reaction to the infection, with markedly higher numbers of two types of T cel

Contact: Sarah Goodwin
Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology

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