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Horm Behav. 2011 Feb;59(2):257-64. doi: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2010.12.002. Epub 2010 Dec 15.

Sex differences in the response to influenza virus infection: modulation by stress.

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School of Behavioral Sciences, The Academic College of Tel Aviv-Yaffo, Tel Aviv, Israel.


Influenza virus infection is a significant public health problem; however factors affecting the incidence and severity of disease have not been fully elucidated. The present study sought to examine the role of sex and stress in mediating susceptibility to an influenza viral infection in mice. Male and female mice underwent repeated cycles of restraint (RST) stress, followed by an influenza A/PR8 virus infection. Following these manipulations, levels of circulating corticosterone, lung proinflammatory cytokine gene expression and sickness behavior were examined. The data indicate sex differences in several aspects of the response to the A/PR8 virus infection. The kinetics of lung interleukin-1β mRNA expression were faster in infected males compared to females, while circulating corticosterone levels were elevated in infected females, but not in males. Anorexia and reduced saccharin consumption began earlier and symptoms were more pronounced in infected males than in females. In addition, RST modulated the response to the A/PR8 virus infection. Proinflammatory cytokine gene expression in response to infection was enhanced and sickness behavior was modulated by RST in both males and females. These data suggest that males mount more vigorous immune and behavioral responses to influenza viral infection compared to females, and stress exacerbates the response in both males and females. In conclusion, complex interactions between biological and behavioral factors are involved in mediating individual differences in health and disease. Additional studies may help uncover some of the factors contributing to the individual differences in susceptibility to influenza infection.

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