Stress-related immune suppression: health implications

Brain Behav Immun. 1987 Mar;1(1):7-20. doi: 10.1016/0889-1591(87)90002-x.


This study used a year-long prospective design to assess linkages among distress, immunity, and illness. Serial blood samples were collected from 40 first-year medical students at the first, third, and fifth examination periods, as well as 1 month before each. There were significant decrements in the production of gamma-interferon by concanavalin A-stimulated lymphocytes obtained at the time of examinations. Antibody titers to Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) increased during examination periods, suggesting reactivation of latent EBV and therefore poorer cellular immune control of latent virus. We obtained data that suggest that T-cell killing by memory T lymphocytes of EBV transformed autologous B lymphocytes also declined during examination periods. The activity of a lymphokine, leukocyte migration inhibition factor, normally suppressed during recrudescence of herpes simplex virus type 2 infections, was altered during examination periods and an increase in both plasma and intracellular levels of cyclic AMP associated with examination stress was observed. An increase in the incidence of self-reported symptoms of infectious illness was also associated with examination periods. The data support the linkage between stress-related immunosuppression and health.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Antibodies, Viral / biosynthesis
  • Antigens, Viral / immunology
  • Capsid Proteins*
  • Cyclic AMP / blood
  • Cytotoxicity, Immunologic
  • Educational Measurement
  • Female
  • Herpesvirus 4, Human / immunology
  • Humans
  • Immunologic Deficiency Syndromes / etiology*
  • Interferon-gamma / deficiency
  • Leukocyte Migration-Inhibitory Factors / analysis
  • Lymphocyte Activation
  • Male
  • Nutritional Status
  • Prospective Studies
  • Self-Assessment
  • Stress, Physiological / complications*
  • Students, Medical / psychology
  • Virus Activation


  • Antibodies, Viral
  • Antigens, Viral
  • Capsid Proteins
  • Epstein-Barr viral capsid antigen
  • Leukocyte Migration-Inhibitory Factors
  • Interferon-gamma
  • Cyclic AMP