Chronic stress, glucocorticoid receptor resistance, inflammation, and disease risk

Sheldon Cohen*, Denise Janicki-Deverts, William J. Doyle, Gregory E. Miller, Ellen Frank, Bruce S. Rabin, Ronald B. Turner

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

643 Scopus citations

Abstract

We propose a model wherein chronic stress results in glucocorticoid receptor resistance (GCR) that, in turn, results in failure to down-regulate inflammatory response. Here we test the model in two viral-challenge studies. In study 1, we assessed stressful life events, GCR, and control variables including baseline antibody to the challenge virus, age, body mass index (BMI), season, race, sex, education, and virus type in 276 healthy adult volunteers. The volunteers were subsequently quarantined, exposed to one of two rhinoviruses, and followed for 5 d with nasal washes for viral isolation and assessment of signs/symptoms of a common cold. In study 2, we assessed the same control variables and GCR in 79 subjects who were subsequently exposed to a rhinovirus and monitored at baseline and for 5 d after viral challenge for the production of local (in nasal secretions) proinflammatory cytokines (IL-1β, TNF-α, and IL-6). Study 1: After covarying the control variables, those with recent exposure to a long-term threatening stressful experience demonstrated GCR; and those with GCRwere at higher risk of subsequently developing a cold. Study 2: With the same controls used in study 1, greater GCR predicted the production of more local proinflammatory cytokines among infected subjects. These data provide support for a model suggesting that prolonged stressors result in GCR, which, in turn, interferes with appropriate regulation of inflammation. Because inflammation plays an important role in the onset and progression of a wide range of diseases, this model may have broad implications for understanding the role of stress in health.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5995-5999
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Volume109
Issue number16
DOIs
StatePublished - Apr 17 2012

Keywords

  • Cortisol
  • Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical axis
  • Lymphocytes
  • Psychological stress
  • Receptor sensitivity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General

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