Researcher provides insight into how stress causes physical symptoms and disease

A Michigan State University researcher is providing new insight into how certain types of stress interact with immune cells and can regulate how these cells respond to allergens, ultimately causing physical symptoms and disease.

The federally funded study, published in the Journal of Leukocyte Biology, showed how a stress receptor, known as corticotropin-releasing factor, or CRF1, can send signals to certain immune cells, called mast cells, and control how they defend the body.

During the study, Moeser compared the histamine responses of mice to two types of stress conditions – psychological and allergic – where the immune system becomes overworked. One group of mice was considered "normal" with CRF1 receptors on their mast cells and the other group had cells that lacked CRF1.

"While the 'normal' mice exposed to stress exhibited high histamine levels and disease, the mice without CRF1 had low histamine levels, less disease and were protected against both types of stress," Moeser said. "This tells us that CRF1 is critically involved in some diseases initiated by these stressors."

The CRF1-deficient mice exposed to allergic stress had a 54 percent reduction in disease, while those mice who experienced psychological stress had a 63 percent decrease.

The results could change the way everyday disorders such as asthma and the debilitating gastrointestinal symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome are treated.

"We all know that stress affects the mind-body connection and increases the risk for many diseases," Moeser said. "The question is, how?"

"This work is a critical step forward in decoding how stress makes us sick and provides a new target pathway in the mast cell for therapies to improve the quality of life of people suffering from common stress-related diseases."

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