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Mechanism Behind Mind-body Connection Discovered

Date:
July 16, 2008
Source:
University of California - Los Angeles
Summary:
New research explains how chronic emotional stress ages the immune system. Immune cells end in protective caps called telomeres that are shorter in the elderly -- and in persons suffering chronic stress. A new study suggests that the hormone cortisol is the culprit behind telomeres' early aging in stressed-out people and offers a potential drug target for protecting the immune system against the damage caused by long-term stress.
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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.

Rita Effros is a 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.

"When the body is under stress, it boosts production of cortisol to support a "fight or flight" response," explains Effros. "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.

The study was supported by the National Institute of Aging, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, the Geron Corp. and TA Therapeutics, Ltd.


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The above post is reprinted from materials provided by University of California - Los Angeles. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


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University of California - Los Angeles. "Mechanism Behind Mind-body Connection Discovered." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 16 July 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/07/080715152325.htm>.
University of California - Los Angeles. (2008, July 16). Mechanism Behind Mind-body Connection Discovered. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 5, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/07/080715152325.htm
University of California - Los Angeles. "Mechanism Behind Mind-body Connection Discovered." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/07/080715152325.htm (accessed July 5, 2015).

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