The effects of an acute psychological stressor on cardiovascular, endocrine, and cellular immune response: a prospective study of individuals high and low in heart rate reactivity

Psychophysiology. 1994 May;31(3):264-71. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-8986.1994.tb02215.x.


High and low reactors were preselected on the basis of their heart rate reactivity to a speech stressor in a prescreening session. In the main study, subjects were exposed to a mental arithmetic plus noise stressor. Cardiovascular activity was recorded during baseline and stressor, and blood was drawn prior to and following the stressor for endocrine and immune assays. Results revealed that the stressor decreased the blastogenic response to concanavalin A and increased natural killer cell numbers and cytotoxicity, absolute numbers of CD8+ T-lymphocytes, norepinephrine and epinephrine levels, heart rate, and blood pressure responses. In addition, cortisol and natural killer cell cytotoxicity responses to the stressor differentiated individuals high versus low in heart rate reactivity. These results suggest that the interactions among the autonomic nervous system, endocrine system, and immune system are not only amenable to psychophysiological analysis but that such analyses may play an important role in illuminating underlying mechanisms.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone / blood
  • Adult
  • Arousal / physiology*
  • Blood Pressure / physiology*
  • Epinephrine / blood
  • Heart Rate / physiology*
  • Hormones / blood*
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / blood
  • Immunity, Cellular / immunology*
  • Leukocyte Count
  • Lymphocyte Activation / immunology
  • Male
  • Norepinephrine / blood
  • Stress, Psychological / complications*
  • Stress, Psychological / immunology
  • T-Lymphocyte Subsets / immunology


  • Hormones
  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone
  • Hydrocortisone
  • Norepinephrine
  • Epinephrine