Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease affecting the central nervous system. An impaired hypothalamopituitary axis and stress reactivity have extensively been discussed without convincing experimental evidence. We choose a standardized acute psychological stressor to determine whether MS patients show altered endocrine and immune responses to stress. In 35 relapsing-remitting MS patients we found elevated baseline levels for catecholamines, prolactin, and IL-6 compared to 15 healthy controls. All neuroendocrine parameters declined during the stress intervention in MS as well as in stress-exposed controls. But only prolactin showed a significantly larger decline in stressed MS patients versus controls. During exposure to the stress we found no significant changes in serum levels of IL-6, IL-6 receptor, or TNF-alpha in either MS patients or controls after stimulation of a whole blood culture. An altered neural immune signaling in relapsing-remitting MS patients during acute experimental stress could not be proven for the parameters analyzed.
Copyright 2001 Elsevier Science (USA).