Neuroendocrine-immune interactions and responses to exercise

Maren S. Fragala, William J. Kraemer, Craig R. Denegar, Carl M. Maresh, Andrea M. Mastro, Jeff S. Volek

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

95 Scopus citations


This article reviews the interaction between the neuroendocrine and immune systems in response to exercise stress, considering gender differences. The bodys response to exercise stress is a system-wide effort coordinated by the integration between the immune and the neuroendocrine systems. Although considered distinct systems, increasing evidence supports the close communication between them. Like any stressor, the bodys response to exercise triggers a systematic series of neuroendocrine and immune events directed at bringing the system back to a state of homeostasis. Physical exercise presents a unique physiological stress where the neuroendocrine and immune systems contribute to accommodating the increase in physiological demands. These systems of the body also adapt to chronic overload, or exercise training. Such adaptations alleviate the magnitude of subsequent stress or minimize the exercise challenge to within homeostatic limits. This adaptive capacity of collaborating systems resembles the acquired, or adaptive, branch of the immune system, characterized by the memory capacity of the cells involved. Specific to the adaptive immune response, once a specific antigen is encountered, memory cells, or lymphocytes, mount a response that reduces the magnitude of the immune response to subsequent encounters of the same stress. In each case, the endocrine response to physical exercise and the adaptive branch of the immune system share the ability to adapt to a stressful encounter. Moreover, each of these systemic responses to stress is influenced by gender. In both the neuroendocrine responses to exercise and the adaptive (B lymphocyte) immune response, gender differences have been attributed to the 'protective' effects of estrogens. Thus, this review will create a paradigm to explain the neuroendocrine communication with leukocytes during exercise by reviewing (i) endocrine and immune interactions; (ii) endocrine and immune systems response to physiological stress; and (iii) gender differences (and the role of estrogen) in both endocrine response to physiological stress and adaptive immune response.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)621-639
Number of pages19
JournalSports Medicine
Issue number8
StatePublished - 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation


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