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Keywords:

  • exercise training;
  • immunity;
  • leukocytes;
  • illness;
  • cytokines

The purpose of this study was to examine factors influencing susceptibility to upper respiratory tract infections (URTI) in 18–35-year-old men and women engaged in endurance-based physical activity during the winter months. Eighty individuals (46 males, 34 females) provided resting blood and saliva samples for determination of markers of systemic immunity. Weekly training and illness logs were kept for the following 4 months. Thirty subjects did not experience an URTI episode and 24 subjects experienced 3 or more weeks of URTI symptoms. These illness-prone subjects had higher training loads and had ∼2.5-fold higher interleukin (IL)-4 and IL-10 production by antigen-stimulated whole blood culture than the illness-free subjects. Illness-prone subjects also had significantly lower saliva S-IgA secretion rate and higher plasma IgM (but not IgA or IgG) concentration than the illness-free subjects. There were no differences in circulating numbers of leukocyte subtypes or lymphocyte subsets between the illness-prone and illness-free subjects. The production of IL-10 was positively correlated and the S-IgA secretion rate was negatively correlated with the number of weeks with infection symptoms. It is concluded that high IL-10 production in response to antigen challenge and low S-IgA secretion are risk factors for development of URTI in physically active individuals.