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Mol Med. 2011 Mar-Apr;17(3-4):180-8. doi: 10.2119/molmed.2010.00204. Epub 2010 Dec 10.

Acute stress elicited by bungee jumping suppresses human innate immunity.

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Department of Intensive Care Medicine, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, the Netherlands.


Although a relation between diminished human immunity and stress is well recognized both within the general public and the scientific literature, the molecular mechanisms by which stress alters immunity remain poorly understood. We explored a novel model for acute human stress involving volunteers performing a first-time bungee jump from an altitude of 60 m and exploited this model to characterize the effects of acute stress in the peripheral blood compartment. Twenty volunteers were included in the study; half of this group was pretreated for 3 d with the β-receptor blocking agent propranolol. Blood was drawn 2 h before, right before, immediately after and 2 h after the jump. Plasma catecholamine and cortisol levels increased significantly during jumping, which was accompanied by significantly reduced ex vivo inducibility of proinflammatory cytokines as well as activation of coagulation and vascular endothelium. Kinome profiles obtained from the peripheral blood leukocyte fraction contained a strong noncanonical glucocorticoid receptor signal transduction signature after jumping. In apparent agreement, jumping down-regulated Lck/Fyn and cellular innate immune effector function (phagocytosis). Pretreatment of volunteers with propranolol abolished the effects of jumping on coagulation and endothelial activation but left the inhibitory effects on innate immune function intact. Taken together, these results indicate that bungee jumping leads to a catecholamine-independent immune suppressive phenotype and implicate noncanonical glucocorticoid receptor signal transduction as a major pathway linking human stress to impaired functioning of the human innate immune system.

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