Stress and the Immune System Linked

Role of spleen in prolonged anxiety after stress

Scientists are uncovering clues to what might be unfolding in the relationship between the brain and immune system in those who suffer from long-term repercussions of stress.

New research details those connections, specifically that an abundance of white blood cells in the spleen could be sending messages to the brain that result in behavioral changes long after mice experience repeated stress.

"We found that immune cells in the spleen can contribute to chronic anxiety following psychological stress," said Daniel McKim, a graduate student at The Ohio State University and the lead author of the study.

"Our findings emphasize the possibility that the immune system represents a novel therapeutic target for the treatment of mental health conditions."

The research was part of a series of related studies presented Nov. 13 in San Diego at Neuroscience 2016, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience.

McKim's co-authors and advisers, John Sheridan and Jonathan Godbout, are working toward explaining the complicated interplay between immunity and stress in animals that have experienced "repeated social defeat" in an effort to eventually improve the well-being of people who experience chronic psychological stress. Sheridan is associate director of Ohio State's Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research and a professor of biosciences. Godbout is an associate professor of neuroscience.

In this study, the trio of scientists determined that the immune cell changes persisted for almost a month after the mice experienced the stress.

"Stress appears to prompt the release of stem cells from the bone marrow to the spleen, where they develop into white blood cells, or monocytes, and expand over time," Godbout said.

"Then the spleen becomes a reservoir of inflammatory cells."

Sheridan said the spleen is now understood to be integral to the sensitization that happens after prolonged stress in mice, leading to anxiety and other cognitive problems down the road.

"It's like a stress memory," Godbout said.

In their previous work, Ohio State researchers have documented an increased prevalence of long-term anxiety and depression in mice exposed to chronic stress, a model that has been compared to post-traumatic stress disorder in people.

"Maybe anxiety is a good thing for survival -- it's beneficial evolutionarily -- but the issue becomes what happens when that system is put into overdrive. That's when it gets problematic," Godbout said.

Added Sheridan, "We're beginning to piece together more details about the bi-directional communication between the brain and the body and the body and the brain."

The research was supported by the National Institutes of Health.

Ohio State University. "Role of spleen in prolonged anxiety after stress." ScienceDaily. (accessed November 17, 2016).


Adapting to stress: Understanding the neurobiology of resilience

"Adapting to Stress: Understanding the Neurobiology of Resilience," an article recently published in Behavioral Medicine, examines the way our bodies, specifically our brains, become "stress-resilient." There is a significant variation in the way individuals react and respond to extreme stress and adversity -- some individuals develop psychiatric conditions such as posttraumatic stress disorder or major depressive disorder -- others recover from stressful experiences without displaying significant symptoms of psychological ill-health, demonstrating stress-resilience

To understand why some individuals exhibit characteristics of a resilient profile, the interplay between neurochemical, genetic, and epigenetic processes over time needs to be explained. In this review, the authors examine the hormones, neuropeptides, neurotransmitters, and neural circuits associated with resilience and vulnerability to stress-related disorders.

About the importance of their article, the authors state: "In a period of international conflict as well as domestic pressures within the NHS, the study of stress and resilience has again become a prescient topic for both military and medical communities. The experience of extreme or prolonged stress does not necessarily result in mental health problems, which is an increasingly overlooked point and one of real significance to the field of psychopathology. Scientific evidence has consistently shown us that a high number of individuals are able to overcome stress and adversity and to continue on with productive lives. In this review, we summarize some of the latest findings underlying the neurobiology of resilience, which we hope will advance the understanding and treatment of stress-related psychiatric disorders."

Carlos Osório, Thomas Probert, Edgar Jones, Allan H. Young, Ian Robbins. Adapting to Stress: Understanding the Neurobiology of Resilience. Behavioral Medicine, 2016; 1 DOI: 10.1080/08964289.2016.1170661