The immune response in case of stress increases, and is not suppressed, as one used to think previously.
The scientists from Stanford University Medical School managed to track and record in detail the motion trajectory of key immune cells in response to short-term stress. It turns out that this type of stress triggers many hormones to enhance the immune response.
In particular, the researchers were able to understand how the triad of stress hormones, located in the adrenal glands, affected the main subpopulations of immune cells. They also suggest that scientists will be able to develop new principles of controlling stress hormones in the near future in order to optimize the patients’ recovery after vaccination or a surgery.
The author of the study, Firdaus Dhabhar, Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry, the representative of the Stanford Institute for Immunity, Transplantation and Infection, says that stress is bad, and we have heard it a thousand times. It is 100% true, since chronic stress lasts for weeks or months and has disastrous consequences, including, in particular, the suppression of the immune response. But a short-term stress, i.e. physical mobilization of the resources of the body in response to an imminent threat within a few minutes or hours, stimulates the immune activity.
Dhabhar has been studying the influence of the major stress hormones on the immune system for over ten years. He has conducted experiments on rats. Short-term stressful situations, modeled by the scientists, made the rodents mobilize several key types of immune cells in their bodies – first in the blood, and then in the skin and other tissues. Dhabhar suggests that it was a large-scale migration of immune cells, which occurred in a matter of two hours and was comparable to the mobilization of military troops in the times of crisis. In his opinion, this is quite a clear indication that a short-term stress, such as vaccination, trauma or surgery, strengthens the immune system and does not suppress it.