Acute muscular exercise induces an increased neutrophil count concomitant with recruitment of natural killer (NK), B and T cells to the blood as reflected by an elevation in the total lymphocyte count. Meanwhile, following intense exercise of long duration the lymphocyte count declines, non-MHC-restricted cytotoxicity is suppressed, but the neutrophil concentration increases. In relation to eccentric exercise involving muscle damage, the plasma concentrations of interleukin-1, interleukin-6 and the tumor necrosis factor are elevated. In this review we will propose a model based on the possible roles that stress hormones play a mediating the exercise- related immunological changes: adrenaline and to a lesser degree noradrenaline are responsible for the immediate effects of exercise on lymphocyte subpopulations and cytotoxic activities. The increase in catecholamines and growth hormone mediate the acute effects of exercise on neutrophils, whereas cortisol may be responsible for maintaining lymphopenia and neutrocytosis after exercise of long duration. Lastly, the role of beta-endorphin is less clear, but the cytokine response is closely related to muscle damage and stress hormones do not seem to be directly involved in the elevated cytokine level. Other possible mechanisms of exercise-induced immunomodulation may include the so-called glutamine hypothesis, which is based on the fact that skeletal muscle is an important source of glutamine production and that lymphocytes are dependent on glutamine for optimal growth. Furthermore, physiological changes during exercise, e.g. increased body temperature and decreased oxygen saturation may also in theory contribute to the exercise-induced immunological changes.
- Immune Tolerance/physiology