The influence of psychological stress on the immune response to vaccines

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 1998 May 1;840:649-55. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.1998.tb09603.x.


We compared virus-specific antibody and T-cell responses to influenza virus vaccination in 32 caregivers of Alzheimer's disease (AD) patients and matched control subjects. Caregivers showed a poorer antibody response and virus-specific T-cell response following vaccination compared to the control subjects as measured by fourfold increases in antibody titers to the vaccine and lower levels of virus-induced IL-2 levels in vitro. We performed a second study in which forty-eight medical students were inoculated with a series of three injections of the hepatitis-B (HEP-B) vaccine to coincide with the third day of three, three-day examination blocks. Twelve of the 48 medical students seroconverted after the first injection; these students were characterized by falling into the lower stressed/lower anxiety group of students. Students who reported greater social support and lower anxiety and stress demonstrated a higher antibody response to the vaccine and a more vigorous T-cell response to HEP-B surface antigen at the end of the third examination experience. The differences in antibody and T-cell responses to HEP-B and influenza virus vaccinations provide a demonstration of how stress may be able to alter both the cellular and humoral immune responses to vaccines and novel pathogens in both younger and older adults.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Alzheimer Disease / therapy
  • Antibodies, Viral / analysis
  • Antibody Formation / drug effects
  • Caregivers / psychology
  • Hepatitis B virus / immunology
  • Humans
  • Immune System / drug effects*
  • Interleukin-2 / biosynthesis
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Orthomyxoviridae / immunology
  • Stress, Psychological / immunology
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology*
  • T-Lymphocytes / metabolism
  • Viral Vaccines / therapeutic use*


  • Antibodies, Viral
  • Interleukin-2
  • Viral Vaccines