Scientists identify mechanism behind mind-body connection

Jul 15, 2008
Immune cells (stained blue) end in protective caps called telomeres (stained yellow) that are shorter in the elderly -- and in persons suffering chronic stress. A new UCLA study suggests cortisol is the culprit behind premature aging of the immune system in stressed-out people. Credit: UCLA/Effros lab

Every cell contains a tiny clock called a telomere, which shortens each time the cell divides. Short telomeres are linked to a range of human diseases, including HIV, osteoporosis, heart disease and aging. Previous studies show that an enzyme within the cell, called telomerase, keeps immune cells young by preserving their telomere length and ability to continue dividing.

UCLA scientists found that the stress hormone cortisol suppresses immune cells' ability to activate their telomerase. This may explain why the cells of persons under chronic stress have shorter telomeres.

The study reveals how stress makes people more susceptible to illness. The findings also suggest a potential drug target for preventing damage to the immune systems of persons who are under long-term stress, such as caregivers to chronically ill family members, as well as astronauts, soldiers, air traffic controllers and people who drive long daily commutes.

"When the body is under stress, it boosts production of cortisol to support a "fight or flight" response," explains Rita Effros, professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, and a member of the Jonsson Cancer Center, Molecular Biology Institute and UCLA AIDS Institute.

"If the hormone remains elevated in the bloodstream for long periods of time, though, it wears down the immune system. We are testing therapeutic ways of enhancing telomerase levels to help the immune system ward off cortisol's effect. If we're successful, one day a pill may exist to strengthen the immune system's ability to weather chronic emotional stress."

The research was published in the May issue of the peer-reviewed journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity.

Source: University of California - Los Angeles

Explore further: Analysis of spider venom reveals seven promising compounds with potential to relieve chronic pain

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Spacewalking astronauts finish extensive, trick cable job

7 hours ago

(AP)—Spacewalking astronauts successfully completed a three-day cable job outside the International Space Station on Sunday, routing several-hundred feet of power and data lines for new crew capsules commissioned ...

IOC defends Rio legacy amid green protests

9 hours ago

Ecological protests on Saturday dogged the final day of an International Olympic Committee executive board meeting in Rio as green campaigners slated the choice of a nature reserve to hold the golf event ...

Recommended for you

Newly discovered hormone mimics the effects of exercise

23 hours ago

Scientists at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology have discovered a new hormone that fights the weight gain caused by a high-fat Western diet and normalizes the metabolism - effects commonly associated ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

menkaur
1 / 5 (1) Jul 15, 2008
hey... that's cool....
now we know how and why "love sickness" develops ....

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.