Epigenetic patterns associated with the immune dysregulation that accompanies psychosocial distress

Brain Behav Immun. 2011 Jul;25(5):830-9. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2010.12.002. Epub 2010 Dec 10.


The molecular basis for psychosocial-distress mediated immune-dysregulation is not well understood. The purpose of this study was to determine whether peripheral blood mononuclear cell (PBMC) epigenetic pattern associates with this form of immune dysregulation. Women newly diagnosed with early stage breast cancer were enrolled into the study and psychosocial, immunological and epigenetic assessments were made at diagnosis and four months later, after completion of cancer treatment. At diagnosis women reported increased perceived stress, anxiety, and mood disturbance and the PBMC of these women exhibited reduced natural killer cell activity and reduced production of interferon gamma, which contrasted with results, obtained after completion of treatment. At the epigenetic level, a PBMC subset derived from women at diagnosis exhibited a distinct epigenetic pattern, with reduced nuclear acetylation of histone residues H4-K8 and H4-K12, as well as reduced phosphorylation of H3-S10, when compared to similar cells derived after the completion of treatment. Natural killer cell activity and interferon-gamma production were associated with nuclear acetylation and phosphorylation status of these histone residues. These findings demonstrate associations among nuclear epigenetic pattern and the immune dysregulation that accompanies psychosocial distress.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics
  • Breast Neoplasms / immunology
  • Breast Neoplasms / psychology
  • Carcinoma, Intraductal, Noninfiltrating / genetics
  • Carcinoma, Intraductal, Noninfiltrating / immunology
  • Carcinoma, Intraductal, Noninfiltrating / psychology
  • Cytokines / immunology
  • Cytokines / physiology
  • Epigenesis, Genetic / genetics
  • Epigenesis, Genetic / immunology*
  • Female
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Humans
  • Immune System Diseases / genetics
  • Immune System Diseases / immunology
  • Immune System Diseases / psychology*
  • Interferon-gamma / immunology
  • Interferon-gamma / physiology
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology
  • Killer Cells, Natural / physiology
  • Lymphocytes / immunology
  • Lymphocytes / physiology
  • Middle Aged
  • Psychological Tests
  • Stress, Psychological / genetics
  • Stress, Psychological / immunology*


  • Cytokines
  • Interferon-gamma