The contribution of sleep to the neuroendocrine regulation of rhythms in human leukocyte traffic


Twenty-four-hour rhythms in immune parameters and functions are robustly observed phenomena in biomedicine. Here, we summarize the important role of sleep and associated parameters on the neuroendocrine regulation of rhythmic immune cell traffic to different compartments, with a focus on human leukocyte subsets. Blood counts of “stress leukocytes” such as neutrophils, natural killer cells, and highly differentiated cytotoxic T cells present a rhythm with a daytime peak. It is mediated by morning increases in epinephrine, leading to a mobilization of these cells out of the marginal pool into the circulation following a fast, beta2-adrenoceptor-dependent inhibition of adhesive integrin signaling. In contrast, other subsets such as eosinophils and less differentiated T cells are redirected out of the circulation during daytime. This is mediated by stimulation of the glucocorticoid receptor following morning increases in cortisol, which promotes CXCR4-driven leukocyte traffic, presumably to the bone marrow. Hence, these cells show highest numbers in blood at night when cortisol levels are lowest. Sleep adds to these rhythms by actively suppressing epinephrine and cortisol levels. In addition, sleep increases levels of immunosupportive mediators, such as aldosterone and growth hormone, which are assumed to promote T-cell homing to lymph nodes, thus facilitating the initiation of adaptive immune responses during sleep. Taken together, sleep–wake behavior with its unique neuroendocrine changes regulates human leukocyte traffic with overall immunosupportive effects during nocturnal sleep. In contrast, integrin de-activation and redistribution of certain leukocytes to the bone marrow during daytime activity presumably serves immune regulation and homeostasis.


Lange T, Luebber F, Grasshoff H & Besedovsky L (2022). The contribution of sleep to the neuroendocrine regulation of rhythms in human leukocyte traffic. Semin Immunopathol. doi: 10.1007/s00281-021-00904-6. Online ahead of print.

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