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Paradoxical Benefits of Psychological Stress in Inflammatory Dermatoses Models Are Glucocorticoid Mediated


Acute psychological stress (PS) mobilizes metabolic responses that are of immediate benefit to the host, but the current medical paradigm holds that PS exacerbates systemic and cutaneous inflammatory disorders. Although the adverse consequences of PS are usually attributed to neuroimmune mechanisms, PS also stimulates an increase in endogenous glucocorticoids (GCs) that compromises permeability barrier homeostasis, stratum corneum cohesion, wound healing, and epidermal innate immunity in normal skin. Yet, if such PS-induced increases in GC were uniformly harmful, natural selection should have eliminated this component of the stress response. Hence, we hypothesized here instead that stress-induced elevations in endogenous GC could benefit, rather than aggravate, cutaneous function and reduce inflammation in three immunologically diverse mouse models of inflammatory diseases. Indeed, superimposed exogenous (motion-restricted) stress reduced, rather than aggravated inflammation and improved epidermal function in all three models, even normalizing serum IgE levels in the atopic dermatitis model. Elevations in endogenous GC accounted for these apparent benefits, because coadministration of mifepristone prevented stress-induced disease amelioration. Thus, exogenous stress can benefit rather than aggravate cutaneous inflammatory dermatoses through the anti-inflammatory activity of increased endogenous GC.

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