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A little stress may go a long way toward boosting skin's immunity

COLUMBUS, Ohio A series of studies in rats and mice suggests that short bouts of stress increase the skin's ability to fight infections and heal minor wounds.

The immune response of animals exposed to acute stress about two hours of restraint was two to four times higher compared to non-stressed animals. This was true when the animals' skin was treated with chemical or protein antigens immediately after a stressful event. An antigen is any substance that the immune system reacts to by producing cells and antibodies.

Stress plus exposure to the antigen triggered an immune response that remained strong for weeks to several months later, when the animals were re-exposed to the irritant without further restraint.

"Acutely stressed animals had a much more vigorous immune response when they were first exposed to the antigen," said Firdaus Dhabhar, an associate professor of oral biology and molecular virology, immunology and medical genetics at Ohio State University.

"That boost to immunity seemed to last, as these animals' immune systems also showed a powerful response when re-exposed to the antigen much later."

Control animals showed a normal immune response to the antigen upon re-exposure, but nowhere near that of the animals that had been stressed.

Dhabhar will give an overview of a decade's worth of research on the effects of acute stress on skin immunity on February 10 at the annual American Academy of Dermatology meeting in Washington, D.C.

In several laboratory studies, researchers compared the immune responses of rats and mice that were restrained for two hours immediately before exposure to the antigen to control animals that were not restrained.

"Gentle restraint, or confinement, creates psychological stress," Dhabhar said. "As a result, heart rate increases, as do blood pressure and circulating levels of stress hormones. All are characteristic signs of a normal stress response, and all subside w
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Contact: Firdaus Dhabhar
Dhabhar.1@osu.edu
614-688-8562
Ohio State University
7-Feb-2004


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