Cytokine production and lymphocyte transformation during stress

Brain Behav Immun. 1991 Dec;5(4):339-48. doi: 10.1016/0889-1591(91)90029-a.


The production of interleukin-1 beta (IL-1 beta) and interferon-gamma (IFN gamma) and blast transformation in peripheral blood mononuclear cells were assessed in medical students writing an academic examination. Blood samples were obtained on three occasions: (1) 1 month prior to the examination during a period of relatively low academic demand; (2) immediately after the examination; and (3) 10 days later. Results indicated that immune responses were significantly different immediately after the examination compared with the baseline and postexam measures. Lymphocyte responsiveness to both concanavalin A and pokeweed mitogen was decreased, as was the production of IFN gamma, supporting earlier reports of immunosuppression after relatively commonplace stressors. In contrast to predictions, IL-1 beta production was significantly elevated after the examination. Cortisol levels were also measured, but did not change across the three sample points. Our finding of an increase in IL-1 beta production suggests that stress may have different effects on different cell populations by enhancing the responses of monocytes and depressing those of lymphocytes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Concanavalin A / pharmacology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / analysis
  • Immune Tolerance
  • Interferon-gamma / biosynthesis*
  • Interferon-gamma / blood
  • Interleukin-1 / biosynthesis*
  • Interleukin-1 / blood
  • Lymphocyte Activation*
  • Male
  • Pokeweed Mitogens
  • Saliva / chemistry
  • Stress, Psychological / blood
  • Stress, Psychological / immunology*
  • Students, Medical / psychology


  • Interleukin-1
  • Pokeweed Mitogens
  • Concanavalin A
  • Interferon-gamma
  • Hydrocortisone