Effects of repeated stress on T cell numbers and function in rats

Olcay A. Batuman, Daniel Sajewski, John E. Ottenweller, David L. Pitman, Benjamin H. Natelson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

60 Scopus citations


Although stress has been reported to affect various functions of the immune system, the mechanism that mediate these effects remain unclear. Thus we examined the effects that 1, 7, and 14 days of stress could have on various aspects of immune and endocrine function in rats. Rats subjected to repeated stress (7 and 14 days) showed significant decreases in the total number of mononuclear cells, particularly suppressor/cytotoxic (CD8) T cells, in the spleen and blood. The mitogenic responses of T cells to phytohemagglutinin (PHA) and concanavalin-A (Con A) were also significantly diminished at these times, as well as after acute (1 day) stress in the case of PHA stimulation. The mechanisms of this impaired T cell mitogenesis were explored by assessing the effects of stress on T cell interleukin 2 (IL-2) production and T cell responsiveness to IL-2. T cells from repeatedly stressed rat showed a decreased production of IL-2 in response to PHA, although their proliferative response to exogenous IL-2 was normal. Repeated stress also decreased body weight and spleen weight, increased adrenal weight, and decreased plasma levels of triiodothyronine and testosterone. These results suggest that lower levels of IL-2 production during stress could be one reason for the decreased mitogen responsiveness of T cells, often seen with stress. This is important because defective IL-2 production could also lead to significant impairment of immunoregulatory T cell generation and thus a predisposition to malignancy or autoimmune disease that some have associated with stress.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)105-117
Number of pages13
JournalBrain, Behavior, and Immunity
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1990
Externally publishedYes


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