Suppression of NK cell activity and of resistance to metastasis by stress: A role for adrenal catecholamines and β-adrenoceptors

Shamgar Ben-Eliyahu*, Guy Shakhar, Gayle G. Page, Volker Stefanski, Keren Shakhar

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Although acute stress has been reported to suppress natural killer cell activity (NKA) and host resistance to metastasis, it is unclear whether the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) has a role in these effects. The current study in Fischer 344 rats assessed the involvement of adrenal catecholamines and β1- and β2-adrenoceptors in mediating these deleterious effects of swim stress. In addition to assessing the number and activity of NK cells following swim stress, we used a tumor model based on the MADB106 mammary adenocarcinoma line: this syngeneic tumor metastasizes only to the lungs, and its lung tumor retention (LTR) and metastatic colonization are highly sensitive to NKA. The findings indicate that stress increased both LTR, assessed 24 h after inoculation, and the number of lung metastases, counted 3 weeks later. These effects were attenuated or completely abolished by the ganglionic blocker chlorisondamine (3 mg/kg i.p.), by adrenal demedullation, by a selective β-adrenergic antagonist (nadolol, 0.4 mg/kg), and additively by a selective β1- (atenolol, 1-6 mg/kg) and a selective β2-antagonist (either butoxamine 4-32 mg/kg or ICI-118,551 0.3-8 mg/kg). Stress also suppressed NKA, and adrenal demedullation prevented this suppression. Administration of adrenaline (0.1-1 mg/kg) or of a β-adrenergic agonist (metaproterenol, 0.8 mg/kg), in physiologically relevant doses, suppressed NKA in a dose-dependent manner, and increased LTR to levels characteristic of swim stress. Taken together, these findings suggest that acute stress, by releasing catecholamines from the adrenal glands and activating β1- and β2-adrenoceptors, suppresses NKA and consequently compromises resistance to NK-sensitive metastasis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)154-164
Number of pages11
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2000


  • Immunomodulators
  • In vivo animal models
  • NK cells
  • Neuroimmunology
  • Rodent


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