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Journal: Psychoneuroendocrinology


The role of immune or infective triggers in the pathogenesis of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is not yet fully understood. Barriers to obtaining immune measures at baseline (i.e., before the trigger) in CFS and post-infective fatigue model cohorts have prevented the study of pre-existing immune dysfunction and subsequent immune changes in response to the trigger. This study presents interferon-alpha (IFN-α)-induced persistent fatigue as a model of CFS. IFN-α, which is used in the treatment of chronic Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) infection, induces a persistent fatigue in some individuals, which does not abate post-treatment, that is, once there is no longer immune activation. This model allows for the assessment of patients before and during exposure to the immune trigger, and afterwards when the original trigger is no longer present. Fifty-five patients undergoing IFN-α treatment for chronic HCV were assessed at baseline, during the 6-12 months of IFN-α treatment, and at six-months post-treatment. Measures of fatigue, cytokines and kynurenine pathway metabolites were obtained. Fifty-four CFS patients and 57 healthy volunteers completed the same measures at a one-off assessment, which were compared with post-treatment follow-up measures from the HCV patients. Eighteen patients undergoing IFN-α treatment (33%) were subsequently defined as having ‘persistent fatigue’ (the proposed model for CFS), if their levels of fatigue were higher six-months post-treatment than at baseline; the other 67% were considered ‘resolved fatigue’. Patients who went on to develop persistent fatigue experienced a greater increase in fatigue symptoms over the first four weeks of IFN-α, compared with patients who did not (Δ Treatment Week (TW)-0 vs. TW4; PF: 7.1 ± 1.5 vs. RF: 4.0 ± 0.8, p = 0.046). Moreover, there was a trend towards increased baseline interleukin (IL)-6, and significantly higher baseline IL-10 levels, as well as higher levels of these cytokines in response to IFN-α treatment, alongside concurrent increases in fatigue. Levels increased to more than double those of the other patients by Treatment Week (TW)4 (p =  0.011 for IL-6 and p = 0.001 for IL-10). There was no evidence of an association between persistent fatigue and peripheral inflammation six-months post-treatment, nor did we observe peripheral inflammation in the CFS cohort. While there were changes in kynurenine metabolites in response to IFN-α, there was no association with persistent fatigue. CFS patients had lower levels of the ratio of kynurenine to tryptophan and 3-hydroxykynurenine than controls. Future studies are needed to elucidate the mechanisms behind the initial exaggerated response of the immune system in those who go on to experience persistent fatigue even if the immune trigger is no longer present, and the change from acute to chronic fatigue in the absence of continued peripheral immune activation.


Racial disparities in health outcomes between African Americans and European Americans have been well-documented, but not fully understood. Chronic inflammation contributes to several of the diseases showing racial disparities (e.g., Human Immunodeficiency Virus [HIV]), and racial differences in stress exposure (e.g., experiences of racial discrimination) that stimulate pro-inflammatory processes that may contribute to differential health outcomes. We performed a cross-sectional bioinformatic analyses relating perceived discrimination (as measured by the Perceived Ethnic Discrimination Questionnaire [PED-Q]) to the activity of pro-inflammatory, neuroendocrine, and antiviral transcription control pathways relevant to the conserved transcriptional response to adversity (CTRA) in peripheral blood leukocytes. Subjects were 71 individuals (37 HIV-seropositive (HIV+); 34 HIV-seronegative (HIV-)) (mean age = 53 years, range 27-63), who self-identified either as African American/Black (n = 48) or European American/White (n = 23). This provided the opportunity to examine the independent effects of race and HIV, as well as the modifying role of perceived discrimination on pathways involved in CTRA. Exploratory analysis examined the interactive effects of HIV and race on pathways involved in CTRA. Relative to European Americans, African Americans showed increased activity of two key pro-inflammatory transcription control pathways (NF- кB and AP-1) and two stress-responsive signaling pathways (CREB and glucocorticoid receptor); these effects did not differ significantly as a function of HIV infection (HIV x Race interaction, all p > .10). Results suggested that differences in experiences of racial discrimination could potentially account for more than 50% of the total race-related difference in pro-inflammatory transcription factor activity. In sum, differential exposure to racial discrimination may contribute to racial disparities in health outcomes in part by activating threat-related molecular programs that stimulate inflammation and contribute to increased risk of chronic illnesses.


Social competition is a fundamental mechanism of evolution and plays a central role in structuring individual interactions and communities. Little is known about the factors that affect individuals' competitive success, particularly in humans. Key factors might include stress, a major evolutionary pressure that can affect the establishment of social hierarchies in animals, and individuals' trait anxiety, which largely determines susceptibility to stress and constitutes an important determinant of differences in competitive outcomes. Using an economic-choice experiment to assess competitive self-confidence in 229 human subjects we found that, whereas competitive self-confidence is unaffected by an individual’s anxiety level in control conditions, exposure to the Trier social stress test for groups drives the behavior of individuals apart: low-anxiety individuals become overconfident, and high-anxiety individuals become underconfident. Cortisol responses to stress were found to relate to self-confidence, with the direction of the effects depending on trait anxiety. Our findings identify stress as a major regulator of individuals' competitiveness, affecting self-confidence in opposite directions in high and low anxious individuals. Therefore, our findings imply that stress may provide a new channel for generating social and economic inequality and, thus, not only be a consequence, but also a cause of inequality through its impact on competitive self-confidence and decision making in financially-relevant situations.

Concepts: Anxiety, Psychology, Neuroticism


Following binding to cannabinoid receptors, endocannabinoids regulate a variety of central nervous system processes including appetite and mood. Recent evidence suggests that the systemic release of these lipid metabolites can be altered by acute exercise and that their levels also vary across the 24-h sleep-wake cycle. The present study utilized a within-subject design (involving 16 normal-weight men) to determine whether daytime circulating endocannabinoid concentrations differ following three nights of partial sleep deprivation (4.25-h sleep opportunity, 2:45-7a.m. each night) vs. normal sleep (8.5-h sleep opportunity, 10:30p.m.-7a.m. each night), before and after an acute bout of ergometer cycling in the morning. In addition, subjective hunger and stress were measured. Pre-exercise plasma concentrations of 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2AG) were 80% higher 1.5h after awakening (vs. normal sleep, p<0.05) when participants were sleep-deprived. This coincided with increased hunger ratings (+25% vs. normal sleep, p<0.05). Moreover, plasma 2AG was elevated 15min post-exercise (+44%, p<0.05). Sleep duration did not however modulate this exercise-induced rise. Finally, subjective stress was generally lower on the day after three nights of short sleep vs. normal sleep, especially after exercise (p<0.05). Given that activation of the endocannabinoid system has been previously shown to acutely increase appetite and mood, our results could suggest that behavioral effects of acute sleep loss, such as increased hunger and transiently improved psychological state, may partially result from activation of this signaling pathway. In contrast, more pronounced exercise-induced elevations of endocannabinoids appear to be less affected by short sleep duration.

Concepts: Immune system, Central nervous system, Nervous system, Receptor, Sleep, Sleep deprivation, Sleep disorder, Insomnia


Cortisol, the primary glucocorticoid (GC) in humans, influences neuronal excitability and plasticity by acting on mineralocorticoid and glucocorticoid receptors. Cellular studies demonstrated that elevated GC levels affect neuronal plasticity, for example through a reduction of hippocampal long-term potentiation (LTP). At the behavioural level, after treatment with GCs, numerous studies have reported impaired hippocampal function, such as impaired memory retrieval. In contrast, relatively little is known about the impact of GCs on cortical plasticity and perceptual learning in adult humans. Therefore, in this study, we explored the impact of elevated GC levels on human perceptual learning. To this aim, we used a training-independent learning approach, where lasting changes in human perception can be induced by applying passive repetitive sensory stimulation (rss), the timing of which was determined from cellular LTP studies. In our placebo-controlled double-blind study, we used tactile LTP-like stimulation to induce improvements in tactile acuity (spatial two-point discrimination). Our results show that a single administration of hydrocortisone (30mg) completely blocked rss-induced changes in two-point discrimination. In contrast, the placebo group showed the expected rss-induced increase in two-point discrimination of over 14%. Our data demonstrate that high GC levels inhibit rss-induced perceptual learning. We suggest that the suppression of LTP, as previously reported in cellular studies, may explain the perceptual learning impairments observed here.

Concepts: Psychology, Hormone, Hippocampus, Cortisol, Perception, Sense, Long-term potentiation, Perceptual learning


The Cognitive Reflection Test (CRT) is a test introduced by Frederick (2005). The task is designed to measure the tendency to override an intuitive response that is incorrect and to engage in further reflection that leads to the correct response. The consistent sex differences in CRT performance may suggest a role for prenatal sex hormones. A now widely studied putative marker for relative prenatal testosterone is the second-to-fourth digit ratio (2D:4D). This paper tests to what extent 2D:4D, as a proxy for the prenatal ratio of testosterone/estrogens, can predict CRT scores in a sample of 623 students. After controlling for sex, we observe that a lower 2D:4D (reflecting a relative higher exposure to testosterone) is significantly associated with a higher number of correct answers. The result holds for both hands' 2D:4Ds. In addition, the effect appears to be stronger for females than for males. We also control for patience and math proficiency, which are significantly related to performance in the CRT. But the effect of 2D:4D on performance in CRT is not reduced with these controls, implying that these variables are not mediating the relationship between digit ratio and CRT.

Concepts: Male, Reproduction, Female, Sexual dimorphism, Gender, Sex, Ratios, Finger


Low levels of vitamin D may play a role in psychiatric disorders, as cross-sectional studies show an association between vitamin D deficiency and depression, schizophrenia and psychotic symptoms. The underlying mechanisms are not well understood, although vitamin D is known to influence the immune system to promote a T helper (Th)-2 phenotype. At the same time, increased inflammation might be of importance in the pathophysiology of depression and suicide. We therefore hypothesized that suicidal patients would be deficient in vitamin D, which could be responsible for the inflammatory changes observed in these patients.

Concepts: AIDS, Immune system, Inflammation, Vitamin D, Asthma, Mental disorder, Schizophrenia, Suicide


Epidemiological evidence demonstrates the neuroendocrine link between stress, depression and diabetes. This study observed glucose intolerance of rats exposed to chronic unpredictable mild stress (CUMS) in oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT). CUMS procedure significantly up-regulated corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF)-related peptide urocortin 2 expression and elevated cAMP production, resulting in over-expression of suppressor of cytokine signaling 3 (SOCS3) in hypothalamic arcuate nucleus (ARC) of rats. Furthermore, SOCS3 activation blocked insulin signaling pathway through the suppression of insulin receptor substrate 2 (IRS2) phosphotyrosine and phosphatidylinositol-3-kinase (PI3-K) activation in hypothalamic ARC of CUMS rats after high-level of insulin stimulation. These data indicated that CUMS procedure induced the hyperactivity of CRF system, and subsequently produced conditional loss of insulin signaling in hypothalamic ARC of rats. More importantly, icariin and fluoxetine with the ability to restrain CRF system hyperactivity improved insulin signaling in hypothalamic ARC of CUMS rats, which were consistent with the enhancement of glucose tolerance in OGTT, showing anti-diabetic efficacy. Although effective in OGTT, anti-diabetic drug pioglitazone failed to restore hypothalamic ARC CRF system hyperactivity, paralleling with its inability to ameliorate the loss of insulin signaling and depression-like behavior in CUMS rats. These observations support the hypothesis that signal cross-talk between hypothalamic CRF system and insulin may be impaired in depression with glucose intolerance and suggest that icarrin and fluoxetine aiming at CRF system may have great potential in the prevention and treatment of depression with comorbid diabetes.

Concepts: Hypothalamus, Insulin, Diabetes mellitus, Blood sugar, Glucose tolerance test, Impaired fasting glycaemia, Insulin resistance, Impaired glucose tolerance


BACKGROUND: The vagus nerve is important in maintaining HPA axis and sympatho-adrenal system (SAS) homeostasis, however little is known about the effect of vagus nerve stimulation (VNS), as used therapeutically, on these functions. Accordingly, the effect of VNS on plasma indices of HPA axis (ACTH, corticosterone), and SAS (norepinephrine, epinephrine) function were evaluated in rats. METHODS: Male rats, on day-0 (D0), underwent surgeries for implantation of catheters into the right jugular vein and programmable (VNP) or non-programmable (VND) neurocybernetic devices encircling the left cervical vagus. On D7, after a blood sample, the device in VNP rats was programmed to deliver 500μs width, 0.25mA current pulses at 20Hz (‘on’ 30s, ‘off’ 5min) followed by timed blood samples during the next 90min. In acute studies, VNS was stopped at 60min and the rats were perfused at 90min to evaluate neuronal Fos immunoreactivity (Fos-IR). In chronic studies, the probe remained active. In these rats, the HPA axis response to airpuff-startle stressor (D17) and anterior pituitary CRF-receptor binding (D26) were evaluated. RESULTS: During acute VNS, plasma indices of HPA axis and SAS activity, as well as Fos-IR activation pattern in brain regions known to increase after stress, were not different between VND and VNP rats. During chronic VNS, stress-induced HPA axis responses exhibited a tendency toward faster recovery to baseline in VNP rats. CONCLUSIONS: Therapeutic VNS is not a stressor and does not compromise HPA axis or SAS homeostasis. Chronic VNS may facilitate development of efficient feedback mechanisms.

Concepts: Hypothalamus, Vagus nerve, Cranial nerves, Acetylcholine, Computer program, Internal jugular vein, Vagus nerve stimulation, Program


Multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) is a medically unexplained condition characterized by reports of recurrent unspecific symptoms attributed to exposure to low levels of common volatile chemicals. The etiology of MCS is poorly understood, but dysregulation of the immune system has been proposed as part of the pathophysiology.

Concepts: Immune system, Antibody, Medicine, Apoptosis, Immunology, Allergy, Humoral immunity, Immunity