Elevated stress hormone levels relate to Epstein-Barr virus reactivation in astronauts

Raymond P. Stowe, Duane L. Pierson, Alan D.T. Barrett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

104 Scopus citations


Objective: The objective of this study was to determine the effects of stress and spaceflight on levels of neuroendocrine hormones and Epstein-Barr virus (EBV)-specific antibodies in astronauts. Methods: Antiviral antibody titers and stress hormones were measured in plasma samples collected from 28 astronauts at their annual medical exam (baseline), 10 days before launch (L-10), landing day (R+0), and 3 days after landing (R+3). Urinary stress hormones were also measured at L-10 and R+0. Results: Significant increases (p < .01) in EBV virus capsid antigen antibodies were found at all three time points (L-10, R+0, and R+3) as compared with baseline samples. Anti-EBV nuclear antigen antibodies were significantly decreased at L-10 (p < .05) and continued to decrease after spaceflight (R+0 and R+3, p < .01). No changes were found in antibodies to the nonlatent measles virus. The 11 astronauts who showed evidence of EBV reactivation had significant increases in urinary epinephrine and norepinephrine as compared with astronauts without EBV reactivation. Conclusion: These findings indicate that physical and psychological stresses associated with spaceflight resulted in decreased virus-specific T-cell immunity and reactivation of EBV.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)891-895
Number of pages5
JournalPsychosomatic Medicine
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2001


  • Epstein-Barr virus
  • Microgravity
  • Spaceflight
  • Stress
  • Viral immunity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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