Stimuli that activate the sympathetic nervous system, such as acute psychological stress, rapidly invoke a robust mobilization of lymphocytes into the circulation. Experimental animal studies suggest that bone marrow-derived progenitor cells (PCs) also mobilize in response to sympathetic stimulation. Here we tested the effects of acute psychological stress and brief pharmacological β-adrenergic (βAR) stimulation on peripheral PC numbers in humans.
In two studies, we investigated PC mobilization in response to an acute speech task (n=26) and βAR-agonist (isoproterenol) infusion (n=20). A subset of 8 participants also underwent the infusion protocol with concomitant administration of the βAR-antagonist propranolol. Flow cytometry was used to enumerate lymphocyte subsets, total progenitor cells, total haematopoietic stem cells (HSC), early HSC (multi-lineage potential), late HSC (lineage committed), and endothelial PCs (EPCs).
Both psychological stress and βAR-agonist infusion caused the expected mobilization of total monocytes and lymphocytes and CD8+ T lymphocytes. Psychological stress also induced a modest, but significant, increase in total PCs, HSCs, and EPC numbers in peripheral blood. However, infusion of a βAR-agonist did not result in a significant change in circulating PCs.
PCs are rapidly mobilized by psychological stress via mechanisms independent of βAR-stimulation, although the findings do not exclude βAR-stimulation as a possible cofactor. Considering the clinical and physiological relevance, further research into the mechanisms involved in stress-induced PC mobilization seems warranted.