Modulation of immune responses by anabolic androgenic steroids

Int J Immunopharmacol. 1995 Nov;17(11):857-63. doi: 10.1016/0192-0561(95)00078-x.


Anabolic androgenic steroids (AS) have recently been placed on the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA's) list of controlled substances, because of the adverse effects seen in athletes taking accelerated dosages in attempts to enhance performance. Reported deleterious effects on abusers include sterility, gynecomastia in males, acne, balding, psychological changes, and increased risks of heart disease and liver neoplasia. Considering the roles of the immune and neuroendocrine systems and their interactions in many of these pathologies, it is important to determine the effects of these derivitized androgens on this connection. Little is known in this respect. We therefore determined the effects of anabolic steroids on certain immune responses and their effects on the extrapituitary production of corticotropin by lymphocytes. We present evidence that (1) both 17-beta and 17-alpha esterified AS, nandrolone decanoate and oxymethenelone, respectively, significantly inhibited production of antibody to sheep red blood cells in a murine abuse model; (2) the control androgens testosterone and dehydroepian-drosterone (DHEA) or sesame seed oil vehicle had no significant effects on antibody production; (3) nandrolone decanoate and oxymethenelone directly induced the production of the inflammatory cytokines IL-1 beta and TNF-alpha from human peripheral blood lymphocytes but had no effect on IL-2 or IL-10 production; (4) control androgens had no direct cytokine inducing effect; (5) nandrolone decanoate significantly inhibited IFN production in human WISH and murine L-929 cells; and (6) nandrolone decanoate significantly inhibited the production of corticotropin in human peripheral blood lymphocytes following viral infection. These data indicate that high doses of anabolic steroids can have significant effects on immune responses and extrapituitary production of corticotropin. Furthermore, the mouse model should provide an effective means by which to study other deleterious effects of anabolic steroid abuse in humans.

MeSH terms

  • Adjuvants, Immunologic / pharmacology*
  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone / biosynthesis
  • Anabolic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Androgens / pharmacology*
  • Animals
  • Fluorescent Antibody Technique
  • Hemolytic Plaque Technique
  • Humans
  • Immune System / drug effects*
  • Interferons / biosynthesis
  • Interleukin-1 / biosynthesis
  • Lymphocytes / drug effects
  • Lymphocytes / metabolism
  • Lymphocytes / virology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred ICR
  • Mice, Inbred Strains
  • Rats
  • Sheep / immunology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / immunology
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / biosynthesis


  • Adjuvants, Immunologic
  • Anabolic Agents
  • Androgens
  • Interleukin-1
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha
  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone
  • Interferons