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Biphasic changes in leukocytes induced by strenuous exercise.

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Institute of Medical Biology, University of Tromsø, Norway.


Seven healthy male volunteers participated in short- (STR, 1.7 km), middle- (MTR, 4.8 km) and long- (LTR, 10.5 km) term runs at a speed close to their maximum. A prompt mobilization of white cells, and lymphocytes in particular, appeared following the exercise. The initial increase in the number of lymphocytes was succeeded by a significant decrease [(P less than 0.03) lymphopenial], which on average was 32%-39% of the pre-exercise values in all groups. A close correlation was found between the initial increase in plasma cortisol concentration after exercise and the subsequent lymphopenia. A modest enhancement in the number of granulocytes immediately after the exercise was accompanied by a comprehensive increase in polymorphonuclear (PMN) elastase concentration accounting for 78.6%, SEM 16.3%, 140.7%, SEM 31.8% and 241.3%, SEM 48.1% in the STR, MTR and LTR groups. No correlation was found between granulocyte number and the plasma PMN elastase concentration. A delayed granulocytosis was noted in all subjects, reaching a peak between 2 and 4 h after the exercise. The magnitude of the granulocytosis varied among subjects and peak values of the number of circulating granulocytes were found to be 5.7 x 10(9) cells.l-1, SEM 0.5, 6.7 x 10(9) cells.l-1, SEM 0.6 and 8.8 x 10(9) cells.l-1, SEM 0.5 in STR, MTR and LTR respectively, whereas the mean baseline value was 3.6 x 10(9) cells.l-1, SEM 0.4. The neutrophilic granulocytosis was not accompanied by a corresponding enhancement in PMN elastase concentration. The plasma cortisol concentration reached a peak 30 min after exercise and declined below the control level in 4 h. Neither the initial increase, nor the subsequent decrease in plasma cortisol concentration were found to be essential for the magnitude of the delayed leukocytosis.

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