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Short-term stress enhances anti-tumor activity in mice, Stanford study shows
Date:9/21/2009

"Acute stress galvanizes an organism's protective systems," said Dhabhar, whose laboratory focuses on understanding the physiological effects of both acute and chronic stress. "But although it's one of nature's fundamental survival systems, thus far it's been rather underappreciated."

The researchers investigated the effect of short-term, or acute, stress on 30 laboratory mice exposed for 10 weeks to thrice-weekly doses of cancer-causing ultraviolet light. The light was non-blistering and non-burning and the mice experienced only a slight reddening of the skin after each exposure. But because the light was composed mainly of the most dangerous wavelength -- called UV-B -- starting at week 11, many of the mice went on to develop precancerous and cancerous growths similar to those seen in humans.

To stress the mice, the researchers placed them in well-ventilated plastic tubes for 2.5 hours prior to UV exposure from weeks four to six, for a total of nine bouts of stress. The mice were not squeezed or compressed, but their ability to move was restricted. Previous research showed that mice confined in such a way mount a behavioral and hormonal stress response.

Dhabhar and his colleagues compared the prevalence and tumor burden of the skin cancers in the stressed mice with that of a non-stressed, UV-exposed control group of 30 mice. They found that fewer of the mice that had been acutely stressed developed skin cancer during weeks 11 through 21, and that those that did exhibited a lower total amount of tumors (a measurement called tumor burden) than the non-stressed mice.

The stressed mice weren't protected indefinitely. Approximately 90 percent of the mice in both groups developed cancer after week 22, though the stressed group continued to have fewer tumors until week 26.

"It's possible that the pre-tumor cells were eliminated more efficiently in the group that was stressed. There may also have been a longer-term enha
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Contact: Ruthann Richter
richter1@stanford.edu
650-725-8047
Stanford University Medical Center
Source:Eurekalert

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