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Stress May Strengthen Skin's Immunity


Ohio State University studies using mice and rats suggest that brief bouts of stress enhance the skin's ability to fight infections and heal minor wounds.

Researchers found that when rodents were exposed to acute stress, in the form of about two hours of restraint, their immune response was two to four times greater than non-stressed rats and mice. This increased immune response was true when the rodents' skin was treated with chemical or protein antigens immediately after the animals were exposed to the acute stress.

An antigen is any substance the immune system reacts to by producing cells and antibodies.

In these animals, the stress combined with antigen exposure triggered an immune response that remained strong for weeks to several months, at which point the animals were re-exposed to the antigen but were not restrained.

"That boost to immunity seemed to last, as these animals' immune systems showed a powerful response when re-exposed to the antigen much later," researcher Firdaus Dhabhar, an associate professor of oral biology and molecular virology, immunology and medical genetics, says in a prepared statement.

Learning more about this kind of immune system response could help scientists develop new ways to treat skin allergies and diseases and create more effective vaccines.

The findings will be presented Feb. 10 at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology in Washington, D.C.