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Physiol Behav. 2005 Apr 13;84(5):807-14. Epub 2005 Apr 26.

Behavioral conditioning with interferon beta-1a in humans.

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Department of Medical Psychology, Medical Faculty, University of Duisburg-Essen, Hufelandstr. 55, 45122 Essen, Germany.


Behavioral conditioning is one of the most impressive demonstrations of brain-immune system interaction. Numerous animal studies have demonstrated behavioral conditioned effects on immune functions, however, human studies are rare. We investigated whether it is possible to behaviorally condition the acute response to interferon (IFN)beta-1a. In a double-blind placebo-controlled study, 30 healthy subjects received a single injection of IFN(beta)-1a (6MIU of REBIF, Serono International) (unconditioned stimulus, UCS) together with a novel drink (conditioned stimulus, CS). Blood was drawn at baseline, 4, 8, and 24 h after drug administration. Within the first 8 h peripheral granulocytes significantly increased, while monocytes, lymphocytes, T-, B- and natural killer (NK) cell numbers were significantly reduced. In parallel, body temperature, heart rate, norepinephrine and interleukin (IL)-6 plasma levels were heightened within 8 h after injection. 8 days later, all previously IFN(beta)-treated subjects received a subcutaneous placebo (NaCl) injection, but only 15 subjects were re-exposed to the CS (experimental group), while a control group (N=15) drank water and an additional group of subjects (n=8) remained untreated (untreated group). Blood sampling was performed at baseline and at 4, 8, and 24 h. Re-exposition to the CS did not elicit conditioned responses in the experimental group. Moreover, no differences were observed between groups. These data provide negative findings regarding behavioral conditioning of cytokine effects in humans employing a one-trial learning paradigm.

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