Tissue-specific alterations in the glucocorticoid sensitivity of immune cells following repeated social defeat in mice

J Neuroimmunol. 2005 Jun;163(1-2):110-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jneuroim.2005.03.002. Epub 2005 Apr 20.


Endogenous glucocorticoids (GC) play an important role in the termination of the inflammatory response following infection and tissue injury. However, recent findings indicate that stress can impair the anti-inflammatory capacities of these hormones. Lipopolysaccharide (LPS)-stimulated splenocytes of mice that were repeatedly subjected to social disruption (SDR) stress were less sensitive to the immunosuppressive effects of corticosterone (CORT) as demonstrated by an increased production of pro-inflammatory cytokines and enhanced cell survival. Myeloid cells expressing the marker CD11b were shown to play a key role in this process. Here we investigated the role of the bone marrow as a potential source of the GC-insensitive cells. The study revealed that LPS-stimulated bone marrow cells, in the absence of experimental stress, were virtually GC-resistant and retained high levels of cell viability after treatment with CORT. Recurrent exposure to the acute stressor over a period of 2, 4 or 6 days led to an increase in the GC sensitivity of the bone marrow cells. This increase in GC sensitivity was associated with enhanced mRNA expression of granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF), an increase in the number of myeloid progenitors, and a decrease in the proportion of mature CD11b+ cells. The changes in the cellular composition of the bone marrow were accompanied by an increase in splenic CD11b+ cell numbers. Simultaneous assessment of the GC sensitivity in bone marrow and spleen revealed a significant negative correlation between both tissues suggesting that social stress causes the redistribution of GC-insensitive myeloid cells from the bone marrow to the spleen.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aggression / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Bone Marrow Cells / drug effects
  • Bone Marrow Cells / immunology
  • Bone Marrow Cells / metabolism
  • Glucocorticoids / pharmacology*
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / drug effects
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / immunology
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Organ Specificity / drug effects
  • Organ Specificity / immunology
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / drug effects
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / immunology
  • Spleen / cytology
  • Spleen / drug effects
  • Spleen / immunology
  • Spleen / metabolism
  • Stress, Physiological / immunology*
  • Stress, Physiological / pathology
  • Time Factors


  • Glucocorticoids