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Brain Behav Immun. 2004 Jul;18(4):341-8.

Sleep associated regulation of T helper 1/T helper 2 cytokine balance in humans.

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Department of Neuroendocrinology, University of Lübeck, Ratzeburger Allee 160, Haus 23a, 23538 Lübeck, Germany.


Recent human studies suggested a supportive influence of regular nocturnal sleep on immune responses to experimental infection (vaccination). We hypothesized here that sleep could ease such responses by shifting the balance between T helper 1 (Th1) and T helper 2 (Th2) cytokine activity towards Th1 dominance thereby favoring cellular over humoral responses to infection. We compared the Th1/Th2 cytokine balance in 14 healthy men during regular nocturnal sleep (between 23:00 and 07:00 h) and while remaining awake during the same nocturnal interval, in a within-subject cross-over design. Blood was collected every 2 h. Production of T cell derived cytokines--interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma), interleukin-2 (IL-2), interleukin-4 (IL-4), and tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha)--was measured at the single cell level using multiparametric flow cytometry. Also, several immunoactive hormones--prolactin, growth hormone (GH), thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), cortisol, and melatonin--were measured, the release of which is known to be regulated by sleep. Compared with wakefulness, early nocturnal sleep induced a shift in the Th1/Th2 cytokine balance towards increased Th1 activity, as indicated by an increased (p <.05) ratio of IFN-gamma/IL-4 producing T helper cells. However, the Th1 shift was only of moderate size and replaced by Th2 dominance during late sleep (p <.05). It could be mediated via release of prolactin and GH which both were distinctly increased during sleep (p <.001). Though unexpected, the most pronounced effect of sleep on T cell cytokine production was a robust decrease in TNF-alpha producing CD8+ cells probably reflecting increased extravasation of cytotoxic effector and memory T cells.

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