Human responses to brief psychological stressors are characterized by changes and large individual differences in autonomic, neuroendocrine, and immune function.The authors examined the effects of brief psychological stressors on cardiovascular, neuroendocrine, and cellular immune response in 22 older women to investigate the common effects of stress across systems. They also used interindividual variation in heart rate reactivity, cardiac sympathetic reactivity (as indexed by preejection period reactivity in their reactivity paradigm), and cardiac vagal reactivity (as indexed by respiratory sinus arrhythmia reactivity) to explore the heterogeneity in human responses to brief psychilogical stressors. The results revealed that brief psychological stressors heightened cardiac activation, elevated plasma catecholamine concentrations, and affected the cellular immune response. It was also found that individuals characterized by high, relative to low, cardiac sympathetic reactivity showed higher stress-related changes in adrenocorticotropic hormone and cortisol plasma levels but comparable changes in epinephrine and norepinephrine concentrations. These data suggest that the effects of psychological stressors on cardiovascular and cellular immune response are governed by coordinated regulatory mechanism(s) and that going beyond the simple notion of heart rate reactivity to examine neural substrates may shed light on the interrelationships among and the regulatory mechanisms for the autonomic, endocrine, and immune responses to stressors.
From the Departments of Psychology (J.T.C., J.K.G., B.N.U., G.G.B.), Medicine (W.B.M., R.G.), Psychiatry (J.K.G., B.N.U., G.G.B.), Medical Microbiology and Immunology (W.B.M., S.A.S., J.F.S., R.G.), and Pediatrics (G.G.B.); Brain, Behavior, Immunity, and Health Program (J.T.C., W.B.M., J.K.G., J.F.S., R.G.); Comprehensive Cancer Center (W.B.M., R.G.); and Section of Oral Biology (J.F.S.), Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio; and Department of Psychology, University of San Diego, San Diego, California (S.A.S.).
Address reprint requests to: John T. Cacioppo, Department of Psychology, Ohio State University, 1885 Neil Avenue, Columbus, OH 43210-1222.
Received for publication January 19, 1994; revision received June 28, 1994.