Stressor-induced modulation of immune function: a review of acute, chronic effects in animals


Alexander W. Kusnecov, Department of Psychology, Biopsychology and Behavioral Neuroscience Program, Rutgers, State University of New Jersey, 152 Frelinghuysen Road, Piscataway, NJ, USA; Tel: + (732) 445 3473; Fax: + (732) 445 2263; E-mail:


The present paper reviews recent studies on the effects of stress on immune function in laboratory animals. The emphasis is on those studies where a simultaneous comparison of acute and chronic stress regimens was determined, although additional relevant studies are also reviewed. The effects of stress on basic measurements of cellular and humoral immune measures are discussed, including the growing number of studies that have reported alterations in macrophage functions. The latter are key elements in the innate immune response, and like measurements of T cell function and antibody production, are inhibited and enhanced by stressor exposure. This review does not focus on the mechanisms by which stress alters immune function, there being little to add conceptually in terms of what was reported previously (see Kusnecov AW, Rabin BS, Int Arch Allergy Immunol 1994;105:107–121.). However, a question is raised in the conclusion as to how stressor effects on immune function should be interpreted, for it is clear that immunological processes in and of themselves elicit central nervous system responses that neurochemically and endocrinologically do not differ from those produced in response to psychological stressors. Therefore, at least in the short term stressor-induced immune changes may not necessarily reflect maladaptive adjustments, although, as demonstrated by some studies reviewed in this paper, they may pose a serious risk to health should stressor exposure be persistent and uncontrolled.