Cortisol and epinephrine control opposing circadian rhythms in T cell subsets

Stoyan Dimitrov, Christian Benedict, Dennis Heutling, Jürgen Westermann, Jan Born, Tanja Lange*

*Corresponding author for this work
190 Citations (Scopus)


Pronounced circadian rhythms in numbers of circulating T cells reflect a systemic control of adaptive immunity whose mechanisms are obscure. Here, we show that circadian variations in T cell subpopulations in human blood are differentially regulated via release of cortisol and catecholamines. Within the CD4+ and CD8+ T cell subsets, naive cells show pronounced circadian rhythms with a daytime nadir, whereas (terminally differentiated) effector CD8+ T cell counts peak during daytime. Naive T cells were negatively correlated with cortisol rhythms, decreased after low-dose cortisol infusion, and showed highest expression of CXCR4, which was up-regulated by cortisol. Effector CD8+ T cells were positively correlated with epinephrine rhythms, increased after low-dose epinephrine infusion, and showed highest expression of β-adrenergic and fractalkine receptors (CX3CR1). Daytime increases in cortisol via CXCR4 probably act to redistribute naive T cells to bone marrow, whereas daytime increases in catecholamines via β-adrenoceptors and, possibly, a suppression of fractalkine signaling promote mobilization of effector CD8+ T cells from the marginal pool. Thus, activation of the major stress hormones during daytime favor immediate effector defense but diminish capabilities for initiating adaptive immune responses.

Original languageEnglish
Issue number21
Pages (from-to)5134-5143
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 2009

Research Areas and Centers

  • Academic Focus: Center for Infection and Inflammation Research (ZIEL)


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