School examinations enhance airway inflammation to antigen challenge

Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2002 Apr 15;165(8):1062-7. doi: 10.1164/ajrccm.165.8.2109065.


Psychological stress can lead to asthma exacerbations in some patients. It is our hypothesis that the stress effect can occur through an enhancement of allergic inflammatory response. To investigate this possibility, airway antigen challenge was evaluated in 20 college students with mild asthma during both a low-stress phase (midsemester or two weeks postfinal examination) and a stress phase (final examination week). Subjects completed questionnaires to assess psychological state and underwent inhaled antigen challenge. Sputum samples were collected before challenge, and six and 24 hours and seven days postchallenge. Leukocytes were counted and eosinophil-derived neurotoxin (EDN) was measured in sputum supernates. Sputum cells were cultured and stimulated ex vivo with phytohemagglutinin (10 microg/ml), and culture supernates were assayed for interleukin-5 (IL-5) and interferon-gamma by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. Sputum eosinophils and EDN levels significantly increased at six and 24 hours postchallenge and were enhanced during the stress phase (p < 0.01). IL-5 generation by sputum cells was also increased at 24 hours during stress and correlated with airway eosinophils (r(s) = 0.65, p < 0.05). Students' anxiety and depression scores were significantly higher during the examination period. Our findings suggest that stress associated with final examinations can act as a cofactor to increase eosinophilic airway inflammation to antigen challenge and thus may enhance asthma severity.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Inhalation
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Allergens / administration & dosage
  • Allergens / immunology*
  • Anxiety / diagnosis
  • Anxiety / physiopathology
  • Asthma / physiopathology*
  • Asthma / psychology*
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Cytokines / metabolism
  • Depression / diagnosis
  • Depression / physiopathology
  • Eosinophil-Derived Neurotoxin
  • Eosinophils
  • Female
  • Forced Expiratory Volume
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / blood
  • Interferon-gamma / metabolism
  • Interleukin-5 / metabolism
  • Leukocytes / metabolism
  • Male
  • Ribonucleases / analysis
  • Sputum / chemistry
  • Sputum / cytology
  • Stress, Psychological / blood
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology*


  • Allergens
  • Cytokines
  • Interleukin-5
  • Interferon-gamma
  • Eosinophil-Derived Neurotoxin
  • Ribonucleases
  • Hydrocortisone