Chronic psychological stress impairs germinal center response by repressing miR-155

Brain Behav Immun. 2019 Feb;76:48-60. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2018.11.002. Epub 2018 Nov 8.


Germinal centers (GC) are vital to adaptive immunity. BCL6 and miR-155 are implicated in control of GC reaction and lymphomagenesis. FBXO11 causes BCL6 degradation through ubiquitination in B-cell lymphomas. Chronic psychological stress is known to drive immunosuppression. Corticosterone (CORT) is an adrenal hormone expressed in response to stress and can similarly impair immune functions. However, whether GC formation is disrupted by chronic psychological stress and its molecular mechanism remain to be elucidated. To address this issue, we established a GC formation model in vivo, and a GC B cell differentiation model in vitro. Comparing Naive B cells to GC B cells in vivo and in vitro, the differences of BCL6 and FBXO11 mRNA do not match the changes at the protein level and miR-155 levels that were observed. Next we demonstrated that CORT increase, induced by chronic psychological stress, reduced GC response, IgG1 antibody production and miR-155 level in vivo. The effect of chronic psychological stress can be blocked by a glucocorticoid receptor (GR) antagonist. Similarly, impaired GC B cell generation and isotope class switching were observed. Furthermore, we found that miR-155 and BCL6 expression were downregulated, but FBXO11 expression was upregulated in GC B cells treated with CORT in vitro. In addition, we demonstrated that miR-155 directly down-regulated FBXO11 expression by binding to its 3́-untranslated region. The subsequent overexpression of miR-155 significantly blocked the stress-induced impairment of GC response, due to changes in FBXO11 and BCL6 expression, as well as increased apoptosis in B cells both in vivo and in vitro. Our findings suggest perturbation of GC reaction may play a role in chronic psychological stress-induced immunosuppression through a glucocorticoid pathway, and miR-155-mediated post-transcriptional regulation of FBXO11 and BCL6 expression may contribute to the impaired GC response.

Keywords: B cells; BCL6; Chronic psychological stress; Corticosterone; FBXO11; Germinal center; miR-155.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / physiology
  • B-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • B-Lymphocytes / metabolism
  • Cell Differentiation / immunology
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / genetics
  • F-Box Proteins / metabolism
  • Female
  • Germinal Center / metabolism*
  • Germinal Center / physiology
  • Lymphocyte Activation
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • MicroRNAs / genetics
  • MicroRNAs / metabolism*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-6 / metabolism
  • Stress, Psychological / metabolism*
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology


  • Bcl6 protein, mouse
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • F-Box Proteins
  • Fbxo11 protein, mouse
  • MicroRNAs
  • Mirn155 microRNA, mouse
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-6