The role of dehydroepiandrosterone on functional innate immune responses to acute stress

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The androgen dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) responds to stress activation, exhibits anti-glucocorticoid properties, and modulates immunity in diverse ways, yet little is known of its role in acute stress responses. In this study, the effects of DHEA and its sulfate ester DHEA-S on human male immune function during exposure to an acute stressor is explored. Variation in DHEA, DHEA-S, testosterone, and cortisol, along with bacterial killing assays, was measured in response to a modified Trier Social Stress test in 27 young adult males. Cortisol was positively related to salivary innate immunity but only for participants who also exhibited high DHEA responses. Additionally, DHEA positively and DHEA-S negatively predicted salivary immunity, but the opposite was observed for serum-based innate immunity. The DHEA response to acute stress appears to be an important factor in stress-mediated immunological responses, with differential effects on immunity dependent upon the presence of other hormones, primarily cortisol and DHEA-S. These results suggest that DHEA plays an important role, alongside other hormones, in modulating immunological shifts during acute stress.

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