Cellular immune responses to acute stress in female caregivers of dementia patients and matched controls

John T. Cacioppo, Kirsten M. Poehlmann, Janice K. Kiecolt-Glaser, William B. Malarkey, Mary Burleson, Gary G. Berntson, Ronald Glaser

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


This study investigated whether the stress of caregiving alters cellular immune responses to acute psychological stressors. Twenty-seven women caring for a spouse with a progressive dementia (high chronic stress) and 37 controls matched for age and family income performed a 12-min laboratory stressor. Cellular immune function was assessed by both functional and quantitative measures taken before (low acute stress), immediately after (high acute stress), and 30 min after (recovery from stress) exposure to the laboratory stressors. The laboratory challenges were associated with diminished proliferative responses but elevated natural killer (NK) cell cytotoxicity; however, subsequent analyses suggested that this elevated cytotoxicity was largely attributable to an increase in the number of NK cells in peripheral blood. The results suggest that although the stress of caregiving diminishes cellular immune function, caregiving appears to have little effect on cellular immune responses to or recovery from brief psychological challenges.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)182-189
Number of pages8
JournalHealth Psychology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1998


  • Caregivers
  • Cellular immunity
  • Chronic stress
  • Psychological stressors

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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