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Biol Psychiatry. 1988 Jun;24(2):173-8.

Plasma cortisol and natural killer cell activity during bereavement.

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  • 1Clinical Center on Alcoholism, San Diego Veterans Administration Medical Center, CA 92161.


Natural killer cell (NK) activity, which is important in the defense against tumors and viral infections, is reduced in women undergoing conjugal bereavement. The relationship between NK activity and plasma cortisol was investigated in three groups of subjects: women who were anticipating the death of their husbands, women whose husbands had recently died, and controls. Bereaved women showed reduced NK activity and increased plasma cortisol levels as compared to controls. Anticipatory bereaved women also showed significant reductions in NK activity, but had levels of plasma cortisol comparable to those of controls. The reduction of NK activity during anticipatory and actual bereavement cannot be explained solely on the basis of increased cortisol secretion.

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