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Social stress boosts immune system's flu-fighting abilities

COLUMBUS, Ohio A new study in mice suggests that, in certain cases, stress may enhance the body's ability to fight the flu.

Short bouts of intense social stress improved the ability in the mice to recover from the flu. The stress apparently did so by substantially boosting the production of specialized immune cells that fought the virus.

"Stressed mice had a stronger immune response and were able to fight off the infection faster," said Jacqueline Wiesehan, a study co-author and a graduate fellow in oral biology at Ohio State University.

These special immune cells are called T cells and are part of the immune system's memory response. T cells "remember" specific infectious agents and can launch future attacks against these intruders.

The researchers hope to learn more about the mechanisms behind the memory response, and to use this information to develop more effective flu vaccines in the future, said David Padgett, a study co-author and an associate professor of oral biology at Ohio State.

Wiesehan, Padgett and John Sheridan, the study's lead author and a professor of oral biology at Ohio State, presented their findings on April 3 at the Experimental Biology 2005 conference in San Diego. The three also worked on this study with Michael Bailey, a postdoctoral fellow in oral biology at Ohio State.

The immune system develops a memory response to the flu vaccine because the vaccine contains inactivated viral particles. The body responds by producing antibodies, special proteins that fight intruders, or antigens, such as bacteria and viruses. Sometimes, people who get the vaccine feel as if they actually have a mild case of the flu. They actually don't, Padgett said. Rather, those flu-like symptoms are just the body's response to making antibodies to the antigen.

New flu vaccines are created every year, and, according to the World Health Organization, are about 70 to 90 percent effective in preventing influenza.
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Contact: David Padgett
Padgett.11@osu.edu
614-247-8946
Ohio State University
3-Apr-2005


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