Original Article

European Journal of Applied Physiology

, Volume 97, Issue 2, pp 151-157

First online:

Seven days’ around the clock exhaustive physical exertion combined with energy depletion and sleep deprivation primes circulating leukocytes

  • Yngvar GundersenAffiliated withDivision of Protection, Norwegian Defence Research Establishment Email author 
  • , Per Kristian OpstadAffiliated withDivision of Protection, Norwegian Defence Research Establishment
  • , Trine ReistadAffiliated withDivision of Protection, Norwegian Defence Research Establishment
  • , Ingjerd ThraneAffiliated withDivision of Protection, Norwegian Defence Research Establishment
  • , Per VaagenesAffiliated withDivision of Protection, Norwegian Defence Research Establishment

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Both exhaustive physical exertion and starvation have been reported to induce depression of immune function. The aim of the present study was to investigate the inflammatory environment and state of activation and mediator-producing potential of circulating leukocytes during prolonged physical activity with concomitant energy and sleep deprivation. Eight well-trained males were studied during 7 days of semi-continuous physical activity. Sleep was restricted to about 1 h/24 h, energy intake to 1.5– 3.0 MJ/24 h. Blood was drawn at 07.00 a.m. on days 0, 2, 4, and 7. Plasma levels of inflammation markers were measured. The response of circulating leukocytes to lipopolysaccharide (LPS; 1 μg mL−1), and the effect of added hydrocortisone (10 and 100 nmol L−1), were measured in the supernatant after 3 h of incubation in an ex vivo whole blood model. Activation of leukocytes steadily increased as measured by plasma matrix metalloproteinase-9, tumour necrosis factor-α, interleukin-1β, and interleukin-6. Inhibitors of systemic inflammation were either unaltered (tissue inhibitor of matrix metalloproteinase-1) or elevated (plasma interleukin-1 receptor antagonist). Cortisol levels increased on days 2 and 4, but thereafter reverted to baseline values. The leukocytes responded to LPS activation with increasing release of inflammatory cytokines throughout the study period. The anti-inflammatory potency of hydrocortisone decreased. Prolonged multifactorial stress thus activated circulating immune cells and primed them for an increased response to a subsequent microbial challenge.


Exercise Inflammation Glucocorticoids Leukocytes Stress