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Brain Behav Immun. 2012 May;26(4):635-41. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2012.01.013. Epub 2012 Jan 25.

Chronic stress enhances progression of acute lymphoblastic leukemia via β-adrenergic signaling.

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Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology, Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, University of California, Los Angeles, CA 90095, USA.


Clinical studies suggest that stress-related biobehavioral factors can accelerate the progression of hematopoietic cancers such as acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), but it is unclear whether such effects are causal or what biological pathways mediate such effects. Given the network of sympathetic nervous system (SNS) fibers that innervates the bone marrow to regulate normal (non-leukemic) hematopoietic progenitor cells, we tested the possibility that stress-induced SNS signaling might also affect ALL progression. In an orthotopic mouse model, Nalm-6 human pre-B ALL cells were transduced with the luciferase gene for longitudinal bioluminescent imaging and injected i.v. into male SCID mice for bone marrow engraftment. Two weeks of daily restraint stress significantly enhanced ALL tumor burden and dissemination in comparison to controls, and this effect was blocked by the β-adrenergic antagonist, propranolol. Although Nalm-6 ALL cells expressed mRNA for β1- and β3-adrenergic receptors, they showed no evidence of cAMP signaling in response to norepinephrine, and norepinephrine failed to enhance Nalm-6 proliferation in vitro. These results show that chronic stress can accelerate the progression of human pre-B ALL tumor load via a β-adrenergic signaling pathway that likely involves indirect regulation of ALL biology via alterations in the function of other host cell types such as immune cells or the bone marrow microenvironment.

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