Effect of a conditioned aversive stimulus on the immune response in three strains of rats

Michael R. Shurin, Alexander W. Kusnecov, Steven E. Riechman, Bruce S. Rabin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


In the present study we investigated the effect of a brief exposure (15 s) to a conditioned aversive stimulus (CS) on the proliferative response of spleen and peripheral blood lymphocytes (PBL) in Lewis, Fischer 344 and Sprague-Dawley rats. Plasma levels of ACTH and corticosterone were also measured. For conditioning, rats were exposed to 10 presentations of a 5 s duration foot-shock (1.6 mA) preceded by a 15 s tone. Seven days later, animals were exposed to the auditory signal without electric shock. Significant differences were found in both the kinetics and the magnitude of altered mitogenic responsiveness of PBL between the different strains of rats. Enhancement of PBL responsiveness to mitogens was observed in Fischer and Sprague-Dawley rats immediately after exposure to the CS. A significant decrease in the response of PBL to mitogens was found in Lewis and Sprague-Dawley rats 10 min after exposure to the CS. The PBL response of Sprague-Dawley and Fischer rats returned to baseline at 30 min, but not in Lewis rats. Proliferative activity of spleen lymphocytes in response to the CS was suppressed from baseline in all rat strains, but the timing and degree of suppression differed. Fischer rats had the largest percentage of suppression. The earliest suppression of spleen mitogenic function after exposure to the CS was in Fischer rats, while the Lewis rats had the latest onset of suppression, with the Sprague-Dawley rats being intermediate. Plasma levels of ACTH and corticosterone peaked at 10 min in all strains of rats. The magnitude of hormonal elevation differed in the different rat strains, suggesting that corticosterone may not have a variable immunomodulatory role in each strain. These data suggest that a brief psychological stressor results in activation of the HPA axis and is associated with strain-dependent alterations of lymphocyte responsiveness to non-specific mitogens. The short-term exposure to a CS which produces different parameters of lymphocyte functional modulation, provides a useful tool to study the mechanisms of stressor-induced immune alteration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)837-849
Number of pages13
Issue number8
StatePublished - 1995
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Endocrinology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry


  • Lymphocyte proliferation
  • Psychological stress
  • Psychoneuroimmunology
  • Short-term stressor
  • Strains of rats


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