Psychological distress and salivary secretory immunity

C. G. Engeland, F. N. Hugo, J. B. Hilgert, G. G. Nascimento, R. Junges, H. J. Lim, P. T. Marucha, J. A. Bosch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

58 Scopus citations


Stress-induced impairments of mucosal immunity may increase susceptibility to infectious diseases. The present study investigated the association of perceived stress, depressive symptoms, and loneliness with salivary levels of secretory immunoglobulin A (S-IgA), the subclasses S-IgA1, S-IgA2, and their transporter molecule Secretory Component (SC). S-IgA/SC, IgA1/SC and IgA2/SC ratios were calculated to assess the differential effects of stress on immunoglobulin transport versus availability.This study involved 113 university students, in part selected on high scores on the UCLA Loneliness Scale and/or the Beck Depression Inventory. Stress levels were assessed using the Perceived Stress Scale. Unstimulated saliva was collected and analysed for total S-IgA and its subclasses, as well as SC and total salivary protein. Multiple linear regression analyses, adjusted for gender, age, health behaviours, and concentration effects (total protein) revealed that higher perceived stress was associated with lower levels of IgA1 but not IgA2. Perceived stress, loneliness and depressive symptoms were all associated with lower IgA1/SC ratios. Surprisingly, higher SC levels were associated with loneliness and depressive symptoms, indicative of enhanced transport activity, which explained a lower IgA1/SC ratio (loneliness and depression) and IgA2/SC ratio (depression).This is the first study to investigate the effects of protracted psychological stress across S-IgA subclasses and its transporter SC. Psychological stress was negatively associated with secretory immunity, specifically IgA1. The lower immunoglobulin/transporter ratio that was associated with higher loneliness and depression suggested a relative immunoglobulin depletion, whereby availability was not keeping up with enhanced transport demand.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)11-17
Number of pages7
JournalBrain, Behavior, and Immunity
StatePublished - Feb 1 2016


  • Depression
  • IgA1
  • IgA2
  • Immunoglobulin A
  • Immunoglobulin subclass
  • Loneliness
  • Saliva
  • Secretory Component
  • Stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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