Plasma neuropeptide-Y concentrations in humans exposed to military survival training

Biol Psychiatry. 2000 May 15;47(10):902-9. doi: 10.1016/s0006-3223(99)00239-5.


Background: Neuropeptide-Y (NPY) is present in extensive neuronal systems of the brain and is present in high concentrations in cell bodies and terminals in the amygdala. Preclinical studies have shown that injections of NPY into the central nucleus of the amygdala function as a central anxiolytic and buffer against the effects of stress. The objective of this study was to assess plasma NPY immunoreactivity in healthy soldiers participating in high intensity military training at the U.S. Army survival school. The Army survival school provides a means of observing individuals under high levels of physical, environmental, and psychological stress, and consequently is considered a reasonable analogue to stress incurred as a result of war or other catastrophic experiences.

Methods: Plasma levels of NPY were assessed at baseline (prior to initiation of training), and 24 hours after the conclusion of survival training in 49 subjects, and at baseline and during the Prisoner of War (P.O.W.) experience (immediately after exposure to a military interrogation) in 21 additional subjects.

Results: Plasma NPY levels were significantly increased compared to baseline following interrogations and were significantly higher in Special Forces soldiers, compared to non-Special Forces soldiers. NPY elicited by interrogation stress was significantly correlated to the subjects' behavior during interrogations and tended to be negatively correlated to symptoms of reported dissociation. Twenty-four hours after the conclusion of survival training, NPY had returned to baseline in Special Forces soldiers, but remained significantly lower than baseline values in non-Special Forces soldiers. NPY was positively correlated with both cortisol and behavioral performance under stress. NPY was negatively related to psychological symptoms of dissociation.

Conclusions: These results provide evidence that uncontrollable stress significantly increases plasma NPY in humans, and when extended, produces a significant depletion of plasma NPY. Stress-induced alterations of plasma NPY were significantly different in Special Forces soldiers compared to non-Special Forces soldiers. These data support the idea that NPY may be involved in the enhanced stress resilience seen in humans.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / blood
  • Male
  • Military Personnel / psychology*
  • Neuropeptide Y / blood*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology
  • Stress, Physiological / psychology
  • Survival / psychology*


  • Neuropeptide Y
  • Hydrocortisone