During physiological or psychological stress, catecholamines produced by the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) regulate the immune system. Previous studies report that the activation of β-adrenergic receptors (βARs) mediates the actions of catecholamines and increases pro-inflammatory cytokine production in a number of different cell types. The impact of the SNS on the immune modulation of social defeat has not been examined. The following studies were designed to determine whether SNS activation during social disruption stress (SDR) influences anxiety-like behavior as well as the activation, priming, and glucocorticoid resistance of splenocytes after social stress. CD-1 mice were exposed to one, three, or six cycles of SDR and HPLC analysis of the plasma and spleen revealed an increase in catecholamines. After six cycles of SDR the open field test was used to measure behaviors characteristic of anxiety and indicated that the social defeat induced increase in anxiety-like behavior was blocked by pre-treatment with the β-adrenergic antagonist propranolol. Pre-treatment with the β-adrenergic antagonist propranolol did not significantly alter corticosterone levels indicating no difference in activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. In addition to anxiety-like behavior the SDR induced splenomegaly and increase in plasma IL-6, TNFα, and MCP-1 were each reversed by pre-treatment with propranolol. Furthermore, flow cytometric analysis of cells from propranolol pretreated mice reduced the SDR-induced increase in the percentage of CD11b(+) splenic macrophages and significantly decreased the expression of TLR2, TLR4, and CD86 on the surface of these cells. In addition, supernatants from 18h LPS-stimulated ex vivo cultures of splenocytes from propranolol-treated SDR mice contained less IL-6. Likewise propranolol pre-treatment abrogated the glucocorticoid insensitivity of CD11b(+) cells ex vivo when compared to splenocytes from SDR vehicle-treated mice. Together, this study demonstrates that the immune activation and priming effects of SDR result, in part, as a consequence of SNS activation.
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