Stress pathways affect immune function, the most notable of these pathways being activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. Although HPA activation has generally been relegated to an immunosuppressive role, recent evidence suggests that stress and HPA activation can be immunoenhancing in certain situations. To investigate specific effects of stress on immune function, we used a genetic model of chronic stress wherein transgenic mice overexpress corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), a primary mediator of the stress response. In these mice, CRH is overproduced in the brain, leading to chronic activation of the HPA axis. We found that CRH-transgenic mice have decreased leukocyte numbers in lymphoid compartments, with preferential loss of B lymphocytes. They also exhibit decreased Ab production and impaired isotype switching in response to immunization with a thymus-dependent Ag, phosphocholine-keyhole limpet hemocyanin. Despite these deficits, immunization protected CRH-transgenic and wild-type mice equally well against lethal challenge with Streptococcus pneumoniae, an encapsulated Gram-positive bacterium known to require Ab-mediated opsonization for clearance. While IgG responses are severely depressed in these mice, IgM titers are only modestly decreased. This fairly robust IgM response may be sufficient to protect against S. pneumoniae. Additionally, while total leukocyte numbers are decreased in these mice, neutrophil numbers are increased. This increase in number of neutrophils may compensate for the depressed IgG response, allowing adequate host defense during chronic stress.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Immunology and Allergy