Psychoneuroimmunology: conditioning and stress

Annu Rev Psychol. 1993:44:53-85. doi: 10.1146/


The acquisition and extinction of the conditioned suppression or enhancement of one or another parameter of antigen-specific and nonspecific defense system responses have been documented in different species under a variety of experimental conditions. Similarly, stressful stimulation influences antigen-specific as well as nonspecific reactions. Moreover, both conditioning and stressful stimulation exert biologically meaningful effects in the sense that they can alter the development and/or progression of what are presumed to be immunologically mediated pathophysiologic processes. These are highly reproducible phenomena that illustrate a functional relationship between the brain and the immune system. However, the extent to which one can generalize from one stressor to another or from one parameter of immunologic reactivity to another is limited. Few generalizations are possible because the direction and/or magnitude of the effects of conditioning and "stress" in modulating immune responses clearly depend on the quality and quantity of the behavioral interventions, the quality and quantity of antigenic stimulation, the temporal relationship between behavioral and antigenic stimulation, the nature of the immune response and the immune compartment in which it is measured, the time of sampling, a variety of host factors (e.g. species, strain, age, sex), and interactions among these several variables. It seems reasonable to assume that the immunologic effects of behaviorally induced neural and endocrine responses depend on (interact with) the concurrent immunologic events upon which they are superimposed. Conversely, the efficacy of immunologic defense mechanisms seems to depend on the neuroendocrine environment on which they are superimposed. We seek to determine when and what immunologic (or neuroendocrine) responses could be affected by what neuroendocrine (or immunologic) circumstances. We therefore need studies that provide a parametric analysis of the stimulus conditions, the neuroendocrine and/or immunologic state upon which they are superimposed, and the responses that are being sampled. The neural or neuroendocrine pathways involved in the behavioral alteration of immune responses are not yet known. Both conditioning and stressor-induced effects have been hypothesized to result from the action of adrenocortical steroids, opioids, and catecholamines, among others. Indeed, all of these have been implicated in the mediation of some immunologic effects observed under some experimental conditions. We assume that different conditioning and stressful environmental circumstances induce different constellations of neuroendocrine responses that constitute the milieu within which ongoing immunologic reactions and the response to immunologic signals occur.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Conditioning, Psychological / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Cellular / immunology*
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology
  • Male
  • Psychoneuroimmunology
  • Stress, Psychological / immunology
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*