The chronobiology of human cytokine production

Int Rev Immunol. 1998;16(5-6):635-49. doi: 10.3109/08830189809043012.


Cytokine production in human whole blood exhibits diurnal rhythmicity. Peak production of the pro-inflammatory cytokines IFN-gamma, TNF-alpha, IL-1 and IL-12 occurs during the night and early morning at a time when plasma cortisol is lowest. The existence of a causal relationship between plasma cortisol and production is suggested by the finding that elevation of plasma cortisol within the physiological range by the administration of cortisone acetate results in a corresponding fall in pro-inflammatory cytokine production. Cortisol may not be the only neuroendocrine hormone that entrains cytokine rhythms; other candidates include 17-hydroxy progesterone, melatonin and dihydroepiandrostene dione (DHEAS). The finding of diurnal cytokine rhythms may be relevant to understanding why immuno-inflammatory disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis or asthma exhibit night-time or early morning exacerbations and to the optimisation of treatment for these disorders. Diurnal rhythmicity of cytokine production also has implications for the timing of blood samples drawn for diagnostic T-cell assays. Finally, diurnal rhythmicity of immune function suggests that the nature of an immune response, for example in response to vaccination, may be modified by the time of day of antigen administration and raises the possibility that immune responses could be therapeutically manipulated by co-administration of immuno-regulatory hormones such as glucocorticoids.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Circadian Rhythm
  • Cytokines / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Th1 Cells / metabolism
  • Th2 Cells / metabolism
  • Time Factors


  • Cytokines