The role of the cytokine network in psychological stress

Yong Ku Kim, Michael Maes

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

56 Citations (Scopus)


Although a considerable amount of evidence has shown that psychological stress alters peripheral and brain cytokines, the physiological significance of cytokine alteration in psychological stress remains to be elucidated. The aims of this review are to analyze the influence of acute and chronic psychological stresses on the cytokine network in animals and in humans, and to explore the pathophysiological implication of the cytokine changes in psychological stress. Acute psychological stress may increase proinflammatory cytokines both in animals and in humans, and increase T-helper-1 cell cytokines in humans. Investigations into the effect of chronic psychological stress on cytokine production in animals gives mixed results. However, in humans, academic exam stress or care-giver's stress appears to induce a shift in the Th1/Th2 cytokine balance toward a Th2 response and increase proinflammatory cytokines. Psychological stress-induced cytokines stimulate the activity of indoleamine 2,3 dioxygenase (IDO) and could induce serotonin depletion-related disorders such as depression in susceptible individuals. Psychological stress-induced production of cytokines may increase the risk for human diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and exacerbation of autoimmune diseases. Proinflammatory cytokines may also play a regulatory role in glucocorticoid resistance and may be involved in wound healing and skin barrier function alterations. Finally, psychological stress-induced production of cytokines may play a role in neurodegenerative changes in the brain.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)148-155
Number of pages8
JournalActa Neuropsychiatrica
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2003 Jun


  • Cytokine
  • Depression
  • IDO
  • IRS
  • Interleukin
  • Psychological stress
  • Schizophrenia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry

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