A corticoid-sensitive cytokine release assay for monitoring stress-mediated immune modulation


Correspondence: A. Choukèr, Department of Anaesthesiology, University of Munich, Munich, Marchioninistrasse15, 81377 Munich, Germany.

E-mail: alexander.chouker@med.uni-muenchen.de


The human immune system is orchestrated in a complex manner and protects the host against invading organisms and controls adequate immune responses to different antigen challenges in an endo-, auto- and paracrine-regulated fashion. The variety and intensity of immune responses are known to be dependent on stress-sensitive neural, humoral and metabolic pathways. The delayed-type hypersensitivity (DTH) skin test was a validated and standardized measure applied in clinical studies to monitor the integral function of cellular immune responses in vivo. The DTH skin test was, however, phased out in 2002. To obtain insight into the mechanisms of stress-sensitive immune reactions, we have developed an alternative in-vitro assay which allows the evaluation of antigen-dependent cellular immune responses triggered by T lymphocytes. The change in the concentration of proinflammatory cytokines in supernatant of the blood–antigen mixture is of particular interest to mirror the degree and adequacy of cellular immune responses. In this study we report that the proinflammatory cytokines interleukin (IL)-2, interferon (IFN)-γ and tumour necrosis factor (TNF)-α show a time-dependent increase upon ex-vivo bacterial, viral and fungal antigen stimulations. Furthermore, evidence is provided that this assay is sensitive to mirror stress hormone-mediated immune modulation in humans as shown either after hydrocortisone injection or after acute stress exposure during free fall in parabolic flight. This in-vitro test appears to be a suitable assay to sensitively mirror stress hormone-dependent inhibition of cellular immune responses in the human. Because of its standardization and relatively simple technical handling, it may also serve as an appropriate research tool in the field of psychoneuroendocrinology in clinical as in field studies.